Barn swallows evolved alongside humans


This 2012 video from the USA says about itself:

This 3 1/2 minute film is the documentation of five baby Barn Swallows, their rapid growth, and departure from their nest.

They certainly kept their beautiful parents busy trying to feed them all.

There are many Barn Swallow nests all over our area in southern New Mexico, under the eaves of coffee shops, barns, carports, schools. This is our carport which seems to work well for them, protected from other animals, under cover, aerated, yet accessible. This is shot with a Canon 5DII using mostly a 70-200 mm lens.

From the University of Colorado at Boulder in the USA:

Barn swallows may indeed have evolved alongside humans

As humans evolved and expanded, so too did barn swallows

November 1, 2018

The evolution of barn swallows, a bird ubiquitous to bridges and sheds around the world, might be even more closely tied to humans than previously thought, according to new study from the University of Colorado Boulder.

The research, published this week in Molecular Ecology, offers preliminary insight suggesting that the barn swallow and its subspecies evolved alongside — but independently from — humans. These new results make it one of the only known species, in addition to microscopic organisms like bacteria or viruses, to have developed in such a way, upending previous assumptions that barn swallows evolved prior to human settlement.

“Humans could be a really big part of the story”, said Rebecca Safran, a co-author of the study and an ecology and evolutionary biology (EBIO) associate professor at CU Boulder. “There’s very few studies that can point to the exact influence of humans, and so here, this coincidence of human expansion and permanent settlement and the expansion of a group that relies really, really heavily on humans is compelling.”

Barn swallows are found across the northern hemisphere and are characterized by their mud-cup nests that are built nearly exclusively on human-made structures. Despite their prevalence, however, not much is known about their evolutionary history, the timing of their expansion from northern Africa (where they originated) or how the six subspecies evolved so physically and behaviorally different yet remain almost genetically identical.

Previous studies published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London and Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution looked into these questions and found that the different subspecies split early, well before human settlement.

This new study, however, gave the topic a fresh look by examining the whole genome of 168 barn swallows from the two sub-species farthest apart on an evolutionary scale: H. r. savignii in Egypt (a non-migratory species that lives along the Nile) and H. r. erythrogaster in North America (a species found throughout North America that migrates seasonally to South America).

These data — which are on the order of 100,000 times bigger than the previous dataset used — were then analyzed with more sophisticated computational resources and methods than previously available. This allowed researchers to get a more complete picture that places the timing of barn swallow differentiation or speciation (i.e., when the barn swallow subspecies separated) closer to that of when humans began to build structures and settlements.

“The previous studies were playing with the idea of potential impact on population sizes due to humans”, said Chris Smith, a graduate student in EBIO and the Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology program, and the study’s lead author. “Our results suggest a much more substantial link with humans.”

These new preliminary findings also suggest that this evolutionary link may have been forged through a “founder event”, which is when a small number of individuals in a species take over a new environment and are able to expand their new population there thanks to an availability of resources and an absence of competitors. For barn swallows, this event may have occurred rapidly when they moved into a new, relatively empty environment: alongside humans.

“Everyone is always wondering how do you study speciation? It’s been viewed as this long-term, million-year (process), but in barn swallows, we are not talking about differentiation within several thousands of years,” said Safran. “Things are really unfolding rather rapidly.”

Smith concurred: “It’s interesting to study speciation in the beginning steps.”

North American Cooper’s hawks, new research


This video from the USA is called Cooper’s Hawk Bathing And Flying Away.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office in the USA:

Urban Cooper’s hawks outcompete their rural neighbors

December 13, 2017

Depending on whether a species flourishes in a city environment, urban wildlife populations can be “sources” or “sinks,” either reproducing so quickly that individuals leave to colonize the surrounding area or needing constant immigration from outside to stay viable. A new study from The Condor: Ornithological Applications examines the population dynamics of Cooper’s Hawks in urban Albuquerque, New Mexico, and finds that city-born birds aren’t just thriving — they’re actually forcing their rural neighbors out of their nest sites.

New Mexico State University’s Brian Millsap collected data on Cooper’s Hawks living in a 72 square kilometer area of northeast Albuquerque from 2011 to 2015, monitoring each year’s nests and tracking newly fledged females with radio transmitters. He found that 30 times more hawks emigrated out of the urban area than immigrated into it, suggesting it was a source population for the surrounding region. However, the details didn’t fit neatly with the traditional source-sink model. While the surrounding exurban hawk populations were breeding and surviving well enough to sustain themselves without immigration, females moving out of the urban area were able to beat them to their nesting sites — unlike their exurban neighbors, they didn’t migrate south for the winter.

White-winged Doves, which first became established in the area in the 1980s, provide an abundant food source for city-dwelling hawks. “Individuals living in urban Albuquerque actually have a fitness advantage over their neighbors living in natural habitats. This advantage comes from the higher prey populations in urban areas, which allow urban female Cooper’s Hawks to spend the winter near their eventual breeding sites, as opposed to rural females that migrate south in winter,” explains Millsap. “The urban female hawks begin searching out and claiming nesting territories before the rural hawks return in spring and thus obtain nesting sites without direct competition from migrants. Because of this advantage, the urban Albuquerque Cooper’s Hawk population not only supports itself but also serves as a substantial source of immigrant females for surrounding native habitats.”

Changes in migratory behavior that lead to segregation between different groups can have profound effects on populations, altering how they interact both with each other and with other species in a community. According to the Peregrine Fund’s Chris McClure, an expert on raptor ecology, “This study is a great example of how solid field work and sophisticated modeling can yield new insights in basic and applied ecology.”

American songbirds threatened by climate change


This video from the USA says about itself:

7 May 2016

Some rather excellent close up shots of a lesser goldfinch having lunch outside my window.

From Science News:

Desert songbirds increasingly at risk of dehydration

by Susan Milius

5:11pm, February 13, 2017

Desert songbirds, especially the little fit-in-your-hand ones, could soon face widening danger zones for lethal thirst in the southwestern United States, a new study predicts.

Coping with heat waves can demand so much water evaporation to prevent heat stroke — from panting, for instance — that birds can die from dehydration, says Blair Wolf of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Small species like the lesser goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) dehydrate at a proportionately higher rate than larger birds such as towhees. If temperatures rise 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a lesser goldfinch could face a risk of death within five hours on as many as 120 days a year in the worst hot spots, Blair and colleagues report February 13 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Four other larger bird species studied, including cactus wrens and curve-billed thrashers, probably won’t see as many risky days as the goldfinch, but there’s dangerous thirst ahead for them, too.

Hot spots

For the lesser goldfinch, danger zones in its range — where heat waves could cause lethal dehydration in hours — are expected to grow under a business-as-usual climate change scenario in which local temperatures rise 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Climate change could deliver final blow for world’s threatened species: here.

A warming climate is pushing organisms towards the circumpolar areas and mountain peaks. A recently conducted Finnish study on changes in bird populations reveals that protected areas slow down the north-bound retreat of species: here.

Birds sing differently in response to traffic noise, which potentially affects their ability to attract mates and defend their territory, according to research published in Bioacoustics: here.

United States police violence against homeless people


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

Man with one leg taken down by 14 San Francisco Police Department officers

17 August 2015

This happened a few seconds away from some of the biggest tech companies in the world, on August 4 2015. Footage by Chaédria LaBouvier.

From Daily Kos blog in the USA:

Mon Aug 17, 2015 at 10:38 AM PDT

14 San Francisco Cops vs. 1 One-Legged Man, Two Crutches and Multiple Phone Cameras.

by jpmassar

It took fourteen San Francico police officers to not arrest a man (need we say he is African-American) walking down the street with crutches and a prosthetic leg.  It also took at least 30 minutes to not arrest him, during which time they had him pinned to the ground by his prosthetic leg, face down into the brick sidewalk.

A reporter, Chaedria LaBouvier, from Medium happened by and caught most of the incident on video, but not the initial disturbance (if, indeed, there was one) or the takedown.

a Black man… was taken down by police in the mid-Market area of San Francisco… I began to see outlines of the incident unfold… a limping Black figure, wearing black, increasingly cornered by a wall of blue. By the time I had crossed 8th street, I was pulling out my phone as fast as I could.

Witnesses said there had been a call about somebody waving sticks around… By the time I arrived… several officers had arrived on the scene, and forced this man to the ground, which is where this footage begins. And they held him down, much of the time half-naked, for at least half an hour on one of San Francisco’s busiest streets…

The sticks? They were his crutches. You can hear people in the background around say so much.

No, no one was murdered. No one was even arrested. No phone cameras were snatched or stomped on, no police person even went crazy, as we’ve seen in so many other incidents. But still, as La Bouvier notes…

“These are my crutches. I use these to walk.” … they stood on his leg, held it, and twisted it around even after they had cuffed him and pinned him to the piss-stained concrete…

5 seconds in, you can see a cop literally stomp this man’s real leg and prosthetic leg.

At 10 seconds, the man-handling of his head begins.

At 22 seconds the man says, “What the fuck is you doing this to me?”

… this is everyday harassment. Which is to say, that we’ve normalized and habitualized the kind of policing in San Francisco and the rest of America that brutalizes the most vulnerable people, which strips them of their human dignity, the agency to their bodies – to walk with crutches when physically disabled, to have this body unviolated – when in actuality, they are whom the police are especially supposed to be protecting.

By D. Lencho, about New Mexico state in the USA:

Albuquerque police officers who killed homeless man to stand trial for murder

19 August 2015

An Albuquerque judge ruled August 18 in favor of trying two Albuquerque Police Department (APD) officers for the shooting death of mentally ill homeless man James Boyd in March 2014. Judge Neil Candelaria’s decision followed closing arguments at a preliminary hearing that morning by the prosecution and defense attorneys for Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, who fired the fatal shots.

The killing of Boyd, who was gunned down by officers armed with assault rifles for the “crime” of illegally camping, ignited protests in Albuquerque and around the nation after a video of the incident went online.

The preliminary hearing began August 3, took a one-week break between August 10 and 14, and resumed on August 17. The prosecution’s case was presented by private attorney Randi McGinn, who was appointed Special Prosecutor due to the disqualification of Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, who was under investigation for bribery allegations that were later dropped.

In her opening statement, McGinn blamed the shooting on a “paramilitary response” that escalated a case of illegal camping in the city’s northeast foothills into a lethal encounter involving 19 officers and more than 700 rounds of ammunition. “What was the crime that prompted this paramilitary response? It was not a terrorist act. It was illegal camping,” she stated. She added, “They created the danger. It was not Mr. Boyd who came at them.”

Sandy’s defense attorney, Sam Bregman, presented the incident as a justified shooting “of a crazy man with two knives.” Perez’s lawyer, Luis Robles, claimed that Boyd was responsible for his own death, having given the officers “no choice” but to fire flash bang grenades and a Taser, sic a police dog on him and ultimately fire six shots at Boyd, three of which struck and killed him.

McGinn pointed to numerous discrepancies throughout the hearing. When she questioned APD lead investigator Detective Geoffrey Stone, he admitted that though “I do typically try to interview [officers accused of wrongdoing] right away”—in order to keep them from coordinating their stories—he waited two days to talk to Sandy and Perez. During defense questioning, Stone quoted Sandy’s claim, customary in post-incident interviews of officers, that he felt “threatened” by Boyd’s “aggressive manner.”

Stone could give no explanation for the fact that neither Sandy nor detective Richard Ingram, who fired the Taser shot, ever produced lapel cam videos. When Judge Candelaria asked APD criminalistics detective Nathan Render if he requested their videos, he replied, “I don’t believe so. I believe it may have been missed.” When he finally requested a video from the on-scene Sergeant— eight or nine days later by his recollection­—“the video had been cleared and the Boyd encounter wasn’t there,” according to a KRQE report.

APD officers are notorious for not recording incidents on their video cams, either because they “forgot” to turn them on or because the video cam mysteriously malfunctioned right at the crucial moment. If they do function, they may, as Render’s testimony makes clear, get misplaced or erased.

On the third day of the hearing, defense attorneys moved to dismiss all charges. Of the four charges—second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and aggravated battery—the judge dropped only the involuntary manslaughter charge, since “the evidence what I’ve heard is more of intentional and I haven’t heard much of anything unintentional,” as he told the attorneys.

The hearing included the testimony of Dr. William J. Lewinski. According to a KRQE report, “The defense maintains that Lewinski is an expert when it comes to officer action and reaction times during shootings, with a substantial academic background.”

In fact, as the World Socialist Web Site has reported, Lewinski, “who charges $1,000 per hour to testify at trial, specializes in offering psychological justifications for police shootings, in which he purports to determine what each of the participants thought and observed. He also testifies that police officers who give inaccurate accounts of shootings are really just experiencing memory loss.”

Or, as the WSWS article put it, Lewinski is in “the lucrative business of cooking up junk science to justify police shootings.”

Lewinski was in typical form at the hearing, using frame-by-frame footage of the shooting to make the claim that James Boyd was hit in the back because the first gunshots had caused him to turn. The judge cut his testimony short because of objections by McGinn, who called his testimony “hogwash” and quoted comedian Jon Stewart: “’There is B.S. out there,’ is what he said, except he used the real words, and when you smell it, you need to call somebody on it.”

Other defense witnesses, including an APD sergeant, a police instructor and the police dog handler—who claimed that Sandy and Perez “saved my life”—presented the officers as acting appropriately when confronted with a dangerous, “crazy man with two knives” threatening the very lives of terrified (and heavily armed) police officers. Since they could not subdue Boyd with “less lethal” means, they were eventually forced to shoot him. Sgt. Jim Fox praised Perez for being “very calm under fire [!]” and said that, “he made great decisions.”

McGinn countered that it was never a full SWAT callout, that Boyd was outmanned and that there was a third lethal cover officer, in addition to Sandy and Perez, who did not fire even when James Boyd took out his knives. Sandy, in fact, had told investigators that he had been called to the scene by mistake, but decided to go anyway. Moreover, it was the police dog handler, Scott Weimerskirch, who approached Boyd when he tried to correct his dog, who had not followed his ‘sic’ order at first.

Three hours after hearing the closing arguments, Judge Candelaria stated, “Counsel, having considered all the evidence in the case and applying the standard of probable cause… The court finds—with the exception of involuntary manslaughter—that the state has established probable cause as to all the counts in the amended information. The court will bind the matters over for trial.”

Still more to the east, in Texas:

Brazos County Sheriff’s Office investigating death of mentally ill inmate.

THE NEW YORK SOUP KITCHEN FOR PEOPLE AND THEIR PETS “Collide aims to provide resources that many homeless youth with pets do not have access to, or are denied at shelters or missions because they have an animal. At the ministry, which is one of multiple programs based at Graffiti Church geared toward underserved communities, pets receive basic medical services like vaccinations, spaying/neutering and dog licensing.” [HuffPost]

Triassic dinosaurs avoided the tropics


This video from the USA says about itself:

15 January 2009

A team of paleontologists from the University of California, Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History and The Field Museum discovered fossils in northern New Mexico that show for the first time that dinosaurs coexisted with their non-dinosaur ancestors for tens of millions of years towards the end of the Triassic Period. This discovery, made at the Hayden Quarry in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, disproves previous notions that dinosaurs rapidly replaced their supposedly outmoded predecessors.

From the National Science Foundation in the USA:

Big dinosaurs steered clear of the tropics

Climate swings lasting millions of years too much for dinos

June 15, 2015

For more than 30 million years after dinosaurs first appeared, they remained inexplicably rare near the equator, where only a few small-bodied meat-eating dinosaurs made a living.

The long absence at low latitudes has been one of the great, unanswered questions about the rise of the dinosaurs.

Now the mystery has a solution, according to scientists who pieced together a detailed picture of the climate and ecology more than 200 million years ago at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico, a site rich with fossils.

The findings, reported today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), show that the tropical climate swung wildly with extremes of drought and intense heat.

Wildfires swept the landscape during arid regimes and reshaped the vegetation available for plant-eating animals.

“Our data suggest it was not a fun place,” says scientist Randall Irmis of the University of Utah.

“It was a time of climate extremes that went back and forth unpredictably. Large, warm-blooded dinosaurian herbivores weren’t able to exist close to the equator–there was not enough dependable plant food.”

The study, led by geochemist Jessica Whiteside, now of the University of Southampton, is the first to provide a detailed look at climate and ecology during the emergence of the dinosaurs.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels then were four to six times current levels. “If we continue along our present course, similar conditions in a high-CO2 world may develop, and suppress low-latitude ecosystems,” Irmis says.

“These scientists have developed a new explanation for the perplexing near-absence of dinosaurs in late Triassic [the Triassic was between 252 million and 201 million years ago] equatorial settings,” says Rich Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

“That includes rapid vegetation changes related to climate fluctuations between arid and moist climates and the resulting extensive wildfires of the time.”

Reconstructing the deep past

The earliest known dinosaur fossils, found in Argentina, date from around 230 million years ago.

Within 15 million years, species with different diets and body sizes had evolved and were abundant except in tropical latitudes. There the only dinosaurs were small carnivores. The pattern persisted for 30 million years after the first dinosaurs appeared.

The scientists focused on Chinle Formation rocks, which were deposited by rivers and streams between 205 and 215 million years ago at Ghost Ranch (perhaps better known as the place where artist Georgia O’Keeffe lived and painted for much of her career).

The multi-colored rocks of the Chinle Formation are a common sight on the Colorado Plateau at places such as the Painted Desert at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

In ancient times, North America and other land masses were bound together in the supercontinent Pangea. The Ghost Ranch site stood close to the equator, at roughly the same latitude as present-day southern India.

The researchers reconstructed the deep past by analyzing several kinds of data: from fossils, charcoal left by ancient wildfires, stable isotopes from organic matter, and carbonate nodules that formed in ancient soils.

Fossilized bones, pollen grains and fern spores revealed the types of animals and plants living at different times, marked by layers of sediment.

Dinosaurs remained rare among the fossils, accounting for less than 15 percent of vertebrate animal remains.

They were outnumbered in diversity, abundance and body size by reptiles known as pseudosuchian archosaurs, the lineage that gave rise to crocodiles and alligators.

The sparse dinosaurs consisted mostly of small, carnivorous theropods.

Big, long-necked dinosaurs, or sauropodomorphs–already the dominant plant-eaters at higher latitudes–did not exist at the study site nor any other low-latitude site in the Pangaea of that time, as far as the fossil record shows.

Abrupt changes in climate left a record in the abundance of different types of pollen and fern spores between sediment layers.

Fossilized organic matter from decaying plants provided another window on climate shifts. Changes in the ratio of stable isotopes of carbon in the organic matter bookmarked times when plant productivity declined during extended droughts.

Drought and fire

Wildfire temperatures varied drastically, the researchers found, consistent with a fluctuating environment in which the amount of combustible plant matter rose and fell over time.

The researchers estimated the intensity of wildfires using bits of charcoal recovered in sediment layers.

The overall picture is that of a climate punctuated by extreme shifts in precipitation and in which plant die-offs fueled hotter fires. That in turn killed more plants, damaged soils and increased erosion.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, calculated from stable isotope analyses of soil carbonate and preserved organic matter, rose from about 1,200 parts per million (ppm) at the base of the section, to about 2,400 ppm near the top.

At these high CO2 concentrations, climate models predict more frequent and more extreme weather fluctuations consistent with the fossil and charcoal evidence.

Continuing shifts between extremes of dry and wet likely prevented the establishment of the dinosaur-dominated communities found in the fossil record at higher latitudes across South America, Europe, and southern Africa, where aridity and temperatures were less extreme and humidity was consistently higher.

Resource-limited conditions could not support a diverse community of fast-growing, warm-blooded, large dinosaurs, which require a productive and stable environment to thrive.

“The conditions would have been something similar to the arid western United States today, although there would have been trees and smaller plants near streams and rivers, and forests during humid times,” says Whiteside.

“The fluctuating and harsh climate with widespread wildfires meant that only small two-legged carnivorous dinosaurs could survive.”

Dinosaurs and their exaggerated structures: species recognition aids, or sexual display devices? Here.

Mastodon discovery in Michigan backyard


This video from the USA says about itself:

Bachelor party makes rare mastodon fossil discovery

13 June 2014

People at a bachelor party on a lake shore in New Mexico stumbled upon a rare fossil: the skull of a mastodon. It is considered to be an ancient elephant, complete with tusks and teeth. Scott Pelley reports.

From Popular Science in the USA today:

These Guys Found The Remains Of A 14,000-Year-Old Butchered Mastodon In Their Backyard

Mastodon burgers anyone?

By Mary Beth Griggs

Posted 39 minutes ago

It isn’t every day that you find bones in your backyard, much less a 4-foot long rib bone sticking out of the earth. After that initial, massive find, neighbors Daniel LaPoint Jr. and Eric Witzke kept digging, eventually unearthing 42 massive bones from a property in Bellevue Township, Michigan last November. At first, they thought the bones might have belonged to a dinosaur, but it turns out that the remains were far younger.

“Preliminary examination indicates that the animal may have been butchered by humans,” Daniel Fisher, director of the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology told the Lansing State Journal. Fisher examined the bones when LaPoint and Witzke contacted the museum, and eventually determined that in addition to being butchered by humans, the bones belonged to a 37-year-old mastodon (a relative of elephants and mammoths) that lived roughly 14,000 years ago.

The Journal reports that while unusual, finding the bones of mastodons isn’t totally unheard of in Michigan; about 330 sites have been confirmed around the state, two in the past year.

Fossils found on private land in the United States belong to the landowner, not the government, so the fossil finders LaPoint and Witzke are keeping a few of the bones as the coolest mementoes ever and donating the rest to the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology. But before they travelled to the museum, the pair took the bones to a local school, where kids got to experience the fossils up close and personal.

“All the kids got to pick them up and hold them. Some kids, it was life-changing for them. To change one kid’s life because they got to touch it, I think, is an incredible opportunity.” LaPoint told the Lansing State Journal.

See also here.