Northern cardinals in American deserts, new study

This August 2018 video from the USA is called 10 Fun & Interesting Facts About Northern Cardinals.

From the American Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Cardinals living in adjacent deserts are sharply distinct in genetics and song

New research investigates whether dialect differences might indicate new species

December 12, 2018

New research suggests that populations of the Northern Cardinal –one of the most ubiquitous backyard birds in the United States– are undergoing speciation in two adjacent deserts. This study, which analyzed genetics and vocal behavior, gives clues about the early steps in bird speciation. The study is published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

“In general, songs are really important for describing and identifying birds”, said lead author Kaiya Provost, a comparative biology Ph.D. Candidate in the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School. “Most studies assume that differences in song are important in the process that gives rise to new bird species. But looking at speciation using both genetics and behavior in wild birds can be really difficult. We went out to test both of these spheres of biology on wild desert birds to look at the full story.”

The researchers focused on Northern Cardinal populations in two deserts: the Sonoran Desert, which covers parts of Arizona, California, and Mexico; and the Chihuahuan Desert, which covers parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. The deserts are separated by about 120 miles of high-elevation plains. Analysis on the DNA of the birds in these areas shows that the two populations have been separated for at least 500,000 years and possibly for as long as 1 million years, which “might be old enough for the speciation process to finish”, Provost said.

In parallel, the researchers examined the song-related behavior of these populations. Songs play a crucial role in a bird’s ability to attract and impress a potential mate. If two birds can’t communicate with each other, for instance, by singing different types of songs, they are less likely to breed. Over time, populations that don’t reproduce with each other will accumulate more and more genetic differences. As time goes on, these two processes can feed back into each other and lead the populations down the path of speciation.

To investigate, Provost and her collaborators–Brian Smith, an assistant curator in the Museum’s Department of Ornithology, and William Mauck III, a researcher at the New York Genome Center–created a bird song experiment that they played in each desert. Each audio series contained four recordings of male birds: neighboring cardinals, cardinals from the same desert but a distance away, cardinals from the adjacent desert, and a control recording of a Cactus Wren.

In the Sonoran Desert, male cardinals reacted to the recorded songs from neighboring birds with aggression–flying around looking for the “intruder” and singing loudly. Songs from birds living further away, both from within the same desert and from the adjacent one, were ignored.

“We saw that the birds are really aggressive to songs by their next-door neighbors, as you would expect, but once there is enough distance between them, they don’t understand the songs anymore,” Provost said. “It’s like if you speak Portuguese in Portugal, you can probably understand Spanish, and you might understand French, but if you keep going further and further away, eventually you’ll hit German or Arabic–languages that are unfamiliar, that you can’t parse.”

In the Chihuahuan Desert, the cardinals also acted aggressively to songs from close neighbors. And, just like the Sonoran birds, they ignored songs from birds across the plains. But, in contrast to Sonoran cardinals, they were aggressive to songs from distant neighbors in the same desert.

“We’re not sure why there’s a difference, but you can think of it as these Chihuahuan birds singing in Portuguese and hearing songs in Spanish. It’s a little different but they still understand it, and they still think it’s an intruder”, Provost said. “There’s something that’s keeping those two groups of songs linked together.”

One of the major challenges taxonomists face is how to identify young species, or draw the line between species and populations. In the case of the Northern Cardinal, the authors say there is mounting evidence that there are multiple species in the United States. “By combining behavioral experiments with genetic estimates of population history, we found corroborating evidence that the speciation process is well advanced”, Smith said. “It is getting harder to argue that they are a single species.”


American migratory birds and climate change

This 2016 video from North America says about itself:

Where do Golden-winged and Cerulean Warblers go when they migrate? A collaboration between multiple universities is seeking to answer this question. Using light level geolocators, researchers are mapping the migration of these tiny songbirds. The goal is to share their findings to protect and manage habitat for these birds on their migratory route, wintering grounds, and breeding sites for full lifecycle conservation.

From Cornell University in the USA:

How will the winds of climate change affect migratory birds?

New study finds both positive and negative impacts possible

December 10, 2018

Under future climate scenarios, changing winds may make it harder for North American birds to migrate southward in the autumn, but make it easier for them to come back north in the spring. Researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology came to this conclusion using data from 143 weather radar stations to estimate the altitude, density, and direction birds took during spring and autumn migrations over several years. They also extracted wind data from 28 different climate change projections in the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their findings were published today in the journal Global Change Biology.

“We combined these data to estimate how wind assistance is expected to change during this century under global climate change,” explains lead author Frank La Sorte, a Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientist. “This matters for migratory birds because they use more energy flying into headwinds. But they get a nice boost from tailwinds so they can conserve energy during flight.”

La Sorte and co-authors project that winds from the south are expected to become stronger by the end of the century during both spring and fall migration periods. Winds from the west may be stronger during spring migration and slightly weaker during the fall. Westerly winds are much more variable overall and harder to predict because they are tied to erratic fluctuations in the high altitude jet stream. Wind changes will be most pronounced in the central and eastern portions of the continent.

With an assist from stronger tailwinds during spring migration, birds would likely arrive in better condition on their northern breeding grounds with better odds of survival. Their fall migration flights into stronger headwinds would drain more energy. If headwinds are too strong, birds may choose not to fly at all on a particular night, throwing off the timing of their migrations.

“The thing to remember about these projected wind changes is that they will not occur in isolation,” La Sorte says. “There will be other global change factors for birds to contend with, including changes in temperatures, rainfall, and land cover.”

Some birds may be able to adapt because the expected wind changes are likely to happen gradually. Studies also show that migratory birds already adjust their migration strategy under current conditions, altering their headings to compensate for winds that push them from their intended flight path.

“The bottom line is that some climate change effects could be negative for migratory birds, and some might even be positive, at least during a specific phase of their migration,” says La Sorte. “There’s an awful lot of uncertainty because both climate and migration are complex systems that can intersect in many different ways.”

Prehistoric sharks of central North America

This 4 December 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

When Sharks Swam the Great Plains

If you’ve ever been to, or lived in, or even flown over the central swath of North America, then you’ve seen the remnants of what was a uniquely fascinating environment. Scientists call it the Western Interior Seaway, and at its greatest extent, it ran from the Caribbean Sea to the Canadian Arctic.

North American fungi, new checklist

This December 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

When Giant Fungi Ruled

420 million years ago, a giant feasted on the dead, growing slowly into the largest living thing on land. It belonged to an unlikely group of pioneers that ultimately made life on land possible — the fungi.

Thanks to Franz Anthony of and Jon Hughes of for their tremendous reconstructions of Prototaxites.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA:

North American checklist identifies the fungus among us

November 28, 2018

Some fungi are smelly and coated in mucus. Others have gills that glow in the dark. Some are delicious; others, poisonous. Some spur euphoria when ingested. Some produce antibiotics.

All of these fungi — and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more — occur in North America. Of those that are known to science, 44,488 appear in a new checklist of North American fungi, published this month in the journal Mycologia.

“This checklist provides the basis for understanding our national mycoflora, which is timely since there is renewed interest in cataloging all North American fungi,” said Illinois Natural History Survey mycologist Andrew Miller, who led the effort to compile the data. “Hundreds of citizen scientists are interested in helping with this project.”

By conservative estimates, scientists have so far documented less than one-third of all fungi thought to exist in North America, said Miller, who also is an affiliate of the department of plant biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where the INHS is based. Collaborators on the checklist include Scott Bates, of Purdue University Northwest, and the Macrofungi and Microfungi Collections Consortia.

While thousands of species of fungi were first identified and described from Europe, many North American fungi have evolved and diversified. Others are unique to the continent, Miller said.

“Many fungi in North America have European names, and while they may be related to their European counterparts, they often are genetically distinct,” Miller said. “About half of the 44,488 fungi in the new checklist are type specimens, which means they are valid North American taxa.”

To compile the checklist, the team searched over 2.2 million records using the Mycology Collections Portal, which includes data from numerous universities, botanical gardens and other institutions. The researchers first built a checklist of all North American fungal species and subspecies, removed those categorized as lichen, then organized the list alphabetically by genus and species.

About 20,000 of the fungi in the checklist are mushrooms; the rest are barely visible with the naked eye and are thus classified as “microfungi”, Miller said. These include molds, mildews and rusts, along with species that break down organic matter in the soil.

Some of the microfungi are pathogens, others are useful. Penicillium is best known for the production of penicillin. Microfungi also include yeasts that aid in breadmaking and alcohol production, along with those that contribute to infections like athlete’s foot and yeast infections.

The macrofungi can range in size from the barely visible to the colossal, Miller said.

“One of the largest living organisms on the planet is a honey mushroom, Armillaria solidipes,” Miller said. “It occurs in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon, where it grows — mostly hidden — underground. It stretches 3.5 miles across, covers an area larger than 1,665 football fields and is believed to be more than 2,400 years old.”

Another fungus, the giant puffball, Calvatia gigantea, may contain as many as 7 trillion spores, Miller said.

“If every spore actually germinated and grew into a puffball, the puffballs produced would weigh more than the Earth,” he said.

Fungi have co-evolved with plants for millions of years and were instrumental in helping plants transition from aquatic environments onto land, Miller said. They are essential to the cycle of life, breaking down organic matter and converting it back to its fundamental components.

“Although an estimated 1.5-5.1 million species of fungi are believed to exist on Earth, only about 120,000 have been discovered and described,” Miller said. “Obviously, we have a lot of work to do to fill in the gaps of our knowledge, but this checklist is a first step to getting our arms around North America’s fungi.”

The INHS is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the U. of I.

This project was made possible by the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program, which supports the Macrofungi Collections Consortium and the Microfungi Collections Consortium.

North American animal photos identified by computer

This 2016 video says about itself:

Hidden Camera Trap Captures Rare Pictures Of Elusive African Animals

A BRITISH wildlife photographer has captured close-up images of some of the world’s most elusive carnivores. With a combination of camera traps – and a lot of patience and planning – Will Burrard-Lucas managed to capture hyenas, lions, and leopards in the Namibia region of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). Will undertook the three month assignment in the summer of 2015 for World Wildlife Fund (WWF), with an aim to obtain high-quality images of elusive animals, some of which having only ever been photographed on research cameras.

Videographer / director: Will Burrard-Lucas, WWF-US
Producer: Crystal Chung, Nick Johnson
Editor: Joshua Douglas

From the University of Wyoming in the USA:

Computers successfully trained to identify animals in photos

November 27, 2018

Summary: Researchers trained a deep neural network to classify wildlife species using 3.37 million camera-trap images of 27 species of animals obtained from five states across the United States. The model then was tested on nearly 375,000 animal images at a rate of about 2,000 images per minute on a laptop computer, achieving 97.6 percent accuracy — likely the highest accuracy to date in using machine learning for wildlife image classification.

A computer model developed at the University of Wyoming by UW researchers and others has demonstrated remarkable accuracy and efficiency in identifying images of wild animals from camera-trap photographs in North America.

The artificial-intelligence breakthrough, detailed in a paper published in the scientific journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, is described as a significant advancement in the study and conservation of wildlife. The computer model is now available in a software package for Program R, a widely used programming language and free software environment for statistical computing.

“The ability to rapidly identify millions of images from camera traps can fundamentally change the way ecologists design and implement wildlife studies,” says the paper, whose lead authors are recent UW Department of Zoology and Physiology Ph.D. graduate Michael Tabak and Ryan Miller, both of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health in Fort Collins, Colo.

The study builds on UW research published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in which a computer model analyzed 3.2 million images captured by camera traps in Africa by a citizen science project called Snapshot Serengeti. The artificial-intelligence technique called deep learning categorized animal images at a 96.6 percent accuracy rate, the same as teams of human volunteers achieved, at a much more rapid pace than did the people.

In the latest study, the researchers trained a deep neural network on Mount Moran, UW’s high-performance computer cluster, to classify wildlife species using 3.37 million camera-trap images of 27 species of animals obtained from five states across the United States. The model then was tested on nearly 375,000 animal images at a rate of about 2,000 images per minute on a laptop computer, achieving 97.6 percent accuracy — likely the highest accuracy to date in using machine learning for wildlife image classification.

The computer model also was tested on an independent subset of 5,900 images of moose, cattle, elk and wild pigs from Canada, producing an accuracy rate of 81.8 percent. And it was 94 percent successful in removing “empty” images (without any animals) from a set of photographs from Tanzania.

The researchers have made their model freely available in a software package in Program R. The package, “Machine Learning for Wildlife Image Classification in R (MLWIC),” allows other users to classify their images containing the 27 species in the dataset, but it also allows users to train their own machine learning models using images from new datasets.

The lead author of the PNAS article, recent UW computer science Ph.D. graduate Mohammad Sadegh (Arash) Norouzzadeh, is one of multiple contributors to the new paper in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Other participating researchers from UW are Department of Computer Science Associate Professor Jeff Clune and postdoctoral researcher Elizabeth Mandeville of the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

Other organizations represented in the research group are the USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center, Arizona State University, California’s Tejon Ranch Conservancy, the University of Georgia, the University of Florida, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Montana.

Prehistoric North American camels

This 20 November 2018 video says about itself:

Camels are famous for adaptations that have allowed them to flourish where most other large mammals would perish. But their story begins over 40 million years ago in North America, and in an environment you’d never expect: a rainforest.

More birds at North American feeders this winter?

This video from Ontario in Canada says about itself:

Evening Grosbeaks Coming to a Feeder Near You? – Nov. 5, 2018

Keep an eye out for Evening Grosbeaks this winter. These stout finches are irruptive migrants, meaning they make very erratic movements south from their boreal habitats into the continental United States in some winters, when they can become common at backyard feeders. These irruptions formerly happened every 2–3 years in the eastern United States but have become less frequent, particularly in the East, since the 1980s. Western subspecies migrate to lower elevations for the winter.

Watch online with highlight clips and information about the birds at

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

This Could Be the Winter You Get Evening Grosbeaks at Your Feeder

A poor summer for conifer seeds in eastern Canada could spell a great winter for feeder watchers in eastern North America. Already, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins are showing up in unusually high numbers. Evening Grosbeaks could make their strongest showing in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in nearly two decades. Get ready for great winter birding with our predictions and tips.