Puerto Rican deep-sea fish’s mouthbreeding discovery


This 17 January 2020 video says about itself:

Deep sea fish Parazen pacificus feeding behavior: NOAA Okeanos Explorer

Taken during the NOAA Okeanos Explorer expedition to the Caribbean Sea.

By Jake Buehler, March 10, 2020 at 2:50 pm:

This is the first deep-sea fish known to be a mouthbreeder

Scientists found over 500 eggs attached to the inside of a parazen’s mouth

Most fish are broadcast spawners, casting their eggs and sperm in clouds and leaving their young to develop alone. But a tiny minority — about 2 percent — are “mouthbreeders”, keeping their fertilized eggs (and sometimes hatchlings) protected in their mouths. Now, a study reveals the first fish known from the deep sea to mouthbrood, researchers report February 27 in Scientific Reports.

In 2015, ichthyologist Randy Singer, now at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology in Ann Arbor, was identifying fish spotted by a remotely operated underwater vehicle for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Okeanos Explorer ship. A red-glinting fish flashed by the vehicle’s camera some 500 meters deep, near Puerto Rico.

Later, Singer identified the fish as a parazen (Parazen pacificus), a poorly known species found in the deep West Atlantic and West Pacific. Upon learning about parazens’ disjointed range, Singer suspected these fish were actually multiple species, not just a single species. He started examining and comparing museum specimens from both oceans.

When examining one specimen from a fish market in Taiwan, Singer peeled back its gill cover to count structures on its gills, and got a surprise. “There was just this big, gnarly clump of something in its mouth,” Singer says.

Initially thinking the female parazen had gobbled up another fish’s eggs, he looked closer and saw that the membrane-enveloped masses were attached to the inside of the mouth by “alienlike tendrils.” Clearly, Singer says, the eggs were being held in the mouth deliberately. He and his colleagues used CT scanning to count an estimated 530 developing embryos.

Deep-sea fishes normally spawn externally, and their young migrate to more productive shallow waters before returning as adults to the food-scarce deep. But mouthbrooding is a comparatively costly investment. Some shallow-water mouthbreeders eat with a mouth full of eggs, which is more difficult and costs more energy, and others abstain from eating entirely as the young develop, draining energy reserves. That parazen would invest so much in protecting their young in such scarcity begs for further investigation, Singer says.

Ashley Robart, an evolutionary biologist at Occidental College in Los Angeles, agrees that this appears to be the first deep-sea fish to mouthbrood. She points out that the fish seems to live in a sandy bottom area with little refuge from predators. “This [environment] may also favor mouth brooding since eggs or free-swimming larvae would be difficult to defend in such an exposed habitat”, she says.

For Singer, the discovery shows that there’s a greater diversity of reproductive strategies in the deep than have been appreciated. But scientists are on the cusp of unveiling far more about how fishes have adapted to deep-sea living (SN: 6/5/19).

“We’re kind of in a renaissance for deep-sea exploration right now,” Singer says. “I would expect people to see many more new discoveries coming rapidly in the future.”

Puerto Rican urban lizards evolution


This 2013 video is called Lizards at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan Puerto Rico.

From Washington University in St. Louis in the USA:

Hot time in the city: Urban lizards evolve heat tolerance

March 10, 2020

Faced with a gritty landscape of metal fences, concrete walls and asphalt pavement, city lizards in Puerto Rico rapidly and repeatedly evolved better tolerance for heat than their forest counterparts, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Studies that delve into how animals adapt in urban environments are still relatively rare. But anoles are becoming a model system for urban evolutionary research.

“Urban lizards are exposed to higher temperatures, consistent with the urban heat island effect,” said biologist Kristin Winchell, postdoctoral research associate in the Losos laboratory in Arts & Sciences. “We found that they are able to maintain their function at temperatures of about 0.82 degrees C (or 1.47 F) higher on average across all populations.”

In one population in this study, urban lizards were able to go about their business in temperatures above 40 C (104 F). That’s a lot of heat for a tiny animal — one that measures about 5 centimeters long, not including its tail.

“Better heat tolerance can make all the difference in an urban habitat,” Winchell said. “Whether it’s being able to stay active during longer parts of the day or being able to occupy perches that reach higher temperatures, it expands their niche space.”

This adaptive thermal response is even more interesting because only those lizards that grow up in the city seem to be able to tap into it — an example of natural selection favoring trait ‘plasticity,’ researchers said. The study is published March 9 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

A hidden superpower

In previous work, Winchell showed that city lizards have evolved longer limbs and larger toepads with specialized scales. Both of these traits allow them to more effectively and quickly traverse urban habitats, allowing them to climb up smooth, painted walls.

Compared with these adaptations, thermal tolerance is a relatively complex trait. It affects multiple body systems and involves potentially hundreds of genes. And cold-blooded animals like these lizards also have the option to behaviorally regulate temperature — for example, by shuttling in and out of sun, or by changing the time of day when they hunt or look for mates.

Winchell’s partner for this effort, Shane Campbell-Staton, assistant professor at UCLA, is an expert at sussing out genomic aspects of thermal adaptation.

“A big part of this story is that the target of selection in urban heat islands is plasticity, the ability of an individual to respond adaptively to its environment,” Campbell-Staton said. “Individuals that are high responders — that is, those that can become more heat tolerant when raised in cities — are favored by natural selection. The major difference is that the adaptation only appears when an individual is born and raised in a city environment.

For example, when Winchell’s previous work showed that lizards with long limbs do better in cities, those individuals would have longer limbs no matter where they are raised.

“In contrast, differences in heat tolerance are hidden in a forest habitat and only show themselves when the proper genes are exposed to warm temperatures,” Campbell-Staton said. “It’s kind of like a hidden superpower that only presents itself in the right environment. We are only just beginning to understand how natural selection works on this type of trait to influence the process of evolution.”

Comparing city lizards to forest lizards

The ability to withstand more heat anytime, anyplace, is potentially a game-changer for Anolis cristatellus, the most abundant and visible species in urban environments of the 10 kinds of lizards that are found across Puerto Rico.

Winchell and her team studied 150 lizards from four municipalities across the island, including the capital San Juan. Each of these locations was part of a paired site: with one lizard collection area in the city, and the other in a nearby forest. The researchers also brought back some of the lizards to a laboratory setting at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where Winchell was a graduate student at the time.

The scientists relied on an established lizard research protocol that tests thermal tolerance as a measure of a lizard’s ability to right itself after being placed gently on its back. The researchers raised the temperature by small increments, and the trial ended when a lizard took too long to right itself. After the tests, a cool water bath helped bring the lizards comfortably back down to normal temperatures.

Separately, the researchers also took tissue samples from lizards exposed to cold, ambient and warm temperatures. Genetic tests revealed different patterns of gene expression in the tissues from city and forest lizards exposed to different temperatures.

Even more interesting, the researchers discovered a single gene variant that differed consistently between the city and forest populations — one that was associated with differences in thermal tolerance. The researchers believe that this indicates natural selection is selecting for the ability to respond to higher temperatures when needed, what they refer to as a ‘high-plasticity genotype.’

Rapid and repeated changes

“One of the unique and exciting things for me about this study is that we’re able to simultaneously address this question about the repeatability of evolution at several different levels of biological organization,” Campbell-Staton said.

“Starting at the whole organism level, we clearly see that urban lizards are able to maintain functioning at significantly higher temperatures than their forest counterparts.

“Then, when we look at all the genes that are being differentially expressed, we see pretty high repeatability in how those large suites of genes are changing as well,” he said. “But if you zoom in even further, we found not only a single gene, but what seems to be a single polymorphism that is repeatedly under selection in these urban heat islands as well, which is fascinating.”

By studying how animals adapt to different habitats, like life in the city, researchers have a unique opportunity to investigate traits that are environmentally dependent but influenced by an animal’s genetic makeup.

That dynamic is part of why Winchell says she is partial to A. cristatellus, which is abundant in urban areas not only in Puerto Rico, but outside of their native range in the southern United States and other parts of the Caribbean.

“I like to say they are urbanophilic, or urban-loving species,” Winchell said. “There are other terms that people use, like urban tolerant or urban-adapting. But I think urbanophilic captures it best. They’re exploiting novel niche space that isn’t present in the forest environment. But they’re not reliant on humans. If humans went away, they would still do fine.”

More earthquake, Trump misery, Puerto Ricans interviewed


This 5 February 2020 TV video from Florida in the USA says about itself:

Tampa woman caught in latest Puerto Rico earthquake while delivering supplies

It’s one thing to see it on the news, Jeannie Calderin said, it’s another to live through it.

That’s how Calderin described experiencing the magnitude 5.0 earthquake that struck Tuesday morning off Puerto Rico’s southwest coast.

“It was a hard one,” she said. “First you hear a sound—like something is roaring—then everything starts to shake.

“I just froze.”

By Kayla Costa and Julio Patron in Puerto Rico:

“We’re facing the worst crisis we’ve ever seen”

Trump threatens to block aid as Puerto Rico is hit by new earthquake

6 February 2020

Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.0 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday morning, the latest major earthquake to strike in more than a month of tremors and aftershocks that have placed significant stress on the island’s infrastructure.

A Puerto Rican flag hangs within the rubble of the Ely Mer Mar hardware store, which partially collapsed after an earthquake struck Guanica, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

The most recent earthquake struck the U.S. territory at 10:45 a.m. just 13 miles southeast of Guanica, a town in the southern region of the island. The region is near the epicenter of the earthquakes that began on December 28, with the most severe of them triggering a series of aftershocks that has yet to cease.

Given the historic lack of funding for infrastructure development and emergency preparation, the region has experienced major damage to public buildings and homes, power outages, and water shutoffs. One person has died, based on current official counts.

Structural damage on a house in southern Puerto Rico

Astonishingly, the local government of Puerto Rico and US federal government have not been able to coordinate any significant allocation of resources to the affected residents. The island has still only received just shy of $11 billion out of the $50 billion that was allocated by Congress after Hurricane Maria in September 2017, though the estimated damage from that disaster is roughly $100 billion.

Remembering all too well the official negligence after Maria, which resulted in more than 5,000 deaths, hundreds of workers have been traveling from the less-impacted northern region with emergency supplies for residents of the south.

Speaking about the help that has been provided by workers, Saul Muñez, a government worker for the Medicaid office in Yauco, told the World Socialist Web Site, “The help that we’ve received from the north shows the solidarity that we all have for our fellow Puerto Ricans, regardless of differences that we may have, in the most critical of times, we are always standing side by side, no matter how dangerous it may be.”

Saul Muñez outisde his home in Yauco, Puerto Rico

Considering the reasons for the lack of emergency preparation and adequate response, Muñez commented, “The response of the government in Puerto Rico is the same as in all countries. The problem is the system throughout the world.”

Workers and youth on the island know that the entire political establishment is not to be trusted. In Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike have backed the dictatorship of finance capital over the island and the implementation of brutal austerity, with the key examples of former President Obama’s installation of the Financial Oversight Board and current President Trump’s constant cuts to social services and emergency aid.

Yesterday, the White House released a statement threatening to veto a $4.7 billion emergency aid package for Puerto Rico that is to be voted on by the House on Friday. Using local corruption as a justification for the criminal withholding of aid, the veto message said, “Neither Puerto Ricans nor the American taxpayers benefit when emergency aid is misallocated, lost, or stolen through waste, fraud, and abuse… Multiple high-profile cases of corruption have marred distribution of aid already appropriated and have led to ongoing political instability on the island.”

It is true that politicians on the island are wracked by corruption and, further, do not lift a finger against the profit interests of US imperialism. However, the opposition to this reality finds a much different expression in the working class.

Dalbert in front of his relative’s home in Yauco, Puerto Rico

Dalbert, a 31-year-old agricultural worker whose life has been impacted by the earthquakes, said, “No matter the politician or political party in power they’re always going to be corrupt, and they’re always going to steal what’s ours. I don’t think that’s going to change, but we need a change, and it’s not going to come from the government. This has to be carried out by the people themselves.”

“I’ve noticed people have a lot of fear and anxiety because of the earthquakes and won’t go back into their house, despite some of them having really sound houses. They’re sleeping just outside their house. It’s not just material damage, it’s emotional damage too.”

Last month, residents of Ponce found a warehouse full of materials with the branding of FEMA, which were supposed to be distributed in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, but instead sat in the warehouse for 3 years. This further exacerbated the political crisis on the island, inspiring anti-government protests only months after masses of Puerto Ricans took to the streets and ousted the island’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló.

When asked about what he thought about the hidden emergency supplies in Ponce, Dalbert said, “It doesn’t sit well with me at all, because the government is always trying to trick us and they only care about themselves, but in the end, it couldn’t have stayed hidden forever. What’s worse is that they’re stealing supplies and money from Puerto Ricans when we were facing, and are still facing, the worst crisis we’ve ever seen on the island. We’ve lost a lot.”

“Puerto Ricans are tired of hearing the same lies from these politicians, but they’ve learned from this whole situation,” Dalbert said, pointing to the social struggles that have taken place and are developing not only in Puerto Rico, but throughout the world.

Repression, not aid after Puerto Rican earthquake


This 12 January 2020 video says about itself:

Two years after the devastations of Hurricane Maria, many in Puerto Rico are struggling to get back on their feet. Now, after being hit with another earthquake, thousands are in shelters, fearful for the future. CGTN’s Nitza Soledad Perez reports.

By Andrea Lobo:

As refugees from earthquakes increase, Puerto Rican authorities prioritize repressive measures

15 January 2020

After two weeks of tremors in Puerto Rico, peaking on January 7 with a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings and left at least one dead, heavy seismic activity and warnings continue. With thousands losing or fleeing their homes, afraid that they will collapse, the response by local authorities and US government has been marked by callous austerity and fears of social unrest.

The island’s Secretary of State, Elmer Román, announced Tuesday that there are 8,023 refugees in “official” camps administrated by the government or NGOs, while “many” more are sleeping in smaller camps and on sidewalks.

The authorities said they will stop providing shelter locally, while the aftershocks continue to cause structural damage, and federal authorities estimate a 17 percent chance of an earthquake of 6.4 magnitude or greater in the next 30 days. Even though experts have warned against mass relocations due to costs for refugees, pushing them to take risks, and a slower recovery process, Román announced that the government will not provide aid unless people travel to five “base camps” set up only until this week by the National Guard.

Puerto Ricans on the island and supporters in the continental US have taken their own initiative to provide staple goods and other aid, with hundreds of volunteers driving to the most affected towns.

The administration of acting governor Wanda Vázquez, who was installed last August after mass demonstrations involving up to 1 million people forced the resignation of two governors, has prioritized the preparedness for another social upheaval over preparedness for another natural disaster.

Beyond the deployment of the local 8,500 National Guard troops, all local police have been called back to duty from vacations and Washington will send 300 security officials from special task forces. Vázquez signed an executive decree so that the latter are immediately sworn in as “agents of peace”, with special enforcement powers. The local legislature introduced a bill this week to request the deployment of Special Forces from the US military.

Another bill requests “financial institutions and telecommunication companies to create deferred systems of payments, without interest, to those affected,” and a third orders a publicity campaign on legal issues for those who lost their homes “without limiting that insurance companies, financial institutions, banks and law firms in Puerto Rico organize their legal departments and personnel and reach out to camps themselves.”

After a power outage across the entire island on January 7, power had been restored to most of the island by Tuesday, but 11,000 people were still without electricity in the Arecibo region and 15,000 without running water. Major repairs were still being carried out to the two main power plants of the island.

Last week, the Trump administration approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, but doubts have been raised that even the meager $5 million made available through the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) will be delivered after the scandalous response of the Trump administration to Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The estimated costs for rebuilding the island after Hurricane Maria surpassed $100 billion, but the White House has only released $1.5 billion of the $8 billion approved in federal aid. A Housing and Urban Development official told the Washington Post last week that Puerto Rico has only spent $5.8 million, citing “strong financial controls” by the federal government.

Puerto Rican National Guard Major General José Juan Reyes declared this week that their relief operations have been affected by the fact that out of the $550 million approved for the Puerto Rican National Guard in response to Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration reassigned $420 million to build the border wall with Mexico.

With trillions assigned for war by overwhelming bipartisan majorities since Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration is preparing a devastating war against Iran as it starves the US territory of funds.

The corporate press has stressed the surprise factor of the earthquakes, claiming that “generations have not felt such an earthquake.” However, the alarm was raised by experts repeatedly, but was dismissed. The extent of the destruction and suffering this week is the result of official negligence by a government that places the profit interests of Wall Street above social needs.

A 6.0 earthquake on September 23 last year—50 miles off the coast compared to less than 10 miles during the recent tremors—raised alarms across the island, just like the 6.4 earthquake in January 2014, located 17 miles north of the coastline.

Shortly after the September 2019 earthquake, Christa Von Hillebrandt-Andrade, the former head of the island’s seismic network, warned: “The island of Puerto Rico is surrounded by faults that could generate very strong earthquakes, and other faults cross it that could lead to major earthquakes and a significant impact. One can expect an earthquake above magnitude 8… Puerto Rico has to be ready for an earthquake and tsunami, 100 percent 24/7.”

This week, Von Hillebrandt told AP, “For decades, scientists and people like me have been informing and alerting communities and the government of Puerto Rico of the physical threat,” denouncing that “not much action was taken.”

Moreover, while the immediate structural integrity of the schools is being assessed, officials are entirely silent about making the necessary renovations or reconstructions to guarantee the safety of students.

The president of the Puerto Rican Association of Engineers, Juan Alicea, said last October in response to a new study that found that 1,000 of the 1,200 schools in the country have not been subject to any of the necessary renovations to abide by 1987 anti-seismic building codes, “The worst thing is that we know what to do and how to do it, but it must be carried out.” This week, Alicea told AP that 200,000 homes are not built to code: “If we don’t take action, this is going to cost us a lot of money and a lot of lives.”

PUERTO RICO’S EMERGENCY SERVICES DIRECTOR FIRED People in a southern Puerto Rico city discovered a warehouse filled with bottled water, cots and other unused emergency supplies, then set off a social media uproar when they broke in to retrieve goods as the area struggles to recover from a strong earthquake. [AP]

Trump administration to illegally divert an additional $7.2 billion to border wall construction: here.

Anger mounts in Puerto Rico as workers discover warehouse full of unused aid: here.