Lake Constance birds, sad, some good, news


This 3 April 2019 video from Austria says about itself:

Birdwatching with Johanna Kronberger in the Lake Constance Rhine delta – Vorarlberg Magazine

As a biologist specialising in birds, Johanna Kronberger regularly travels around Lake Constance and spends lots of time in the Rhine delta even during the winter. She takes people out on bird-watching tours.

Read the whole story in the „Worlds of winter“ Vorarlberg Magazine by Vorarlberg state tourist board.

From the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Germany:

Birds in serious decline at Lake Constance

Over the last 30 years, the region has lost 120,000 breeding pairs

September 3, 2019

Summary: In the past 30 years, the number of breeding pairs in the region has dropped by 25 percent from 465,000 in the eighties to 345,000 by 2012.

At first glance, the numbers recorded between 1980 and 2012 appear to be quite balanced. 68 of the 158 bird species that inhabit the area around Lake Constance became more populous, while 67 species declined; each of these figures approximates to 43 percent of all the bird species in the region. The total number of species has even increased slightly: although eight species have died out, 17 have either returned to the region or settled there for the first time. These include the white stork, the peregrine falcon and the eagle owl, all of which have benefitted particularly from the protective measures put in place.

This seeming contradiction is due to the fact that the most common species are disappearing particularly rapidly. Six of the ten most common bird species around Lake Constance have declined dramatically in number, while two have remained the same and only two have increased. The population of house sparrows, for example, has declined by 50 percent since 1980, at which time it was still the most common species. “These are really shocking figures — particularly when you consider that the bird population started declining decades before the first count in 1980,” explains Hans-Günther Bauer from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior. Viewed over a lengthier period, the fall in numbers may therefore be even greater.

Agricultural landscape hostile to birds

It is particularly noticeable how differently the various habitats have been affected. The study indicates that bird populations around Lake Constance are dwindling particularly rapidly in countryside which is intensively used by humans. This applies above all to modern farmland: 71 percent of the species that inhabit fields and meadows have declined in numbers, in some cases drastically. The partridge, for example, which was once a common inhabitant of the region’s farmland, has completely died out around Lake Constance. The great grey shrike, the meadow pipit and the little owl have also disappeared from the area.

One of the main reasons for this decline is the scarcity of food. According to the ornithologists, 75 percent of the bird species that eat flying insects and 57 percent of those that eat terrestrial invertebrates have decreased in number around Lake Constance. “This confirms what we have long suspected: the human extermination of insects is having a massive impact on our birds,” says Bauer. In addition, today’s efficient harvesting methods leave hardly any seeds behind for granivorous species. Moreover, the early, frequent mowing of large areas of grassland, the agricultural practice of monoculture, the early ripening of winter grains, the implementation of drainage measures and the shortage of fallow land are destroying the habitats of many species that live in the open countryside.

However, the birds are disappearing not only from the fields and meadows but also from the towns and villages around Lake Constance. “The increasing need for order and decreasing tolerance of dirt and noise are making life more and more difficult for local birds. It appears that successful breeding is becoming increasingly rare since the birds are being forced to nest amid tower blocks, ornamental trees and immaculate kitchen gardens,” says Bauer. Even species that can survive virtually anywhere, such as blackbirds (down 28 percent), chaffinches and robins (each down 24 percent) are suffering greatly due to the deteriorating conditions in settled areas.

Winners and losers in the woods and on the water

In contrast, the woodland birds around Lake Constance appear to be doing comparatively well. 48 percent of the forest-dwelling species are increasing in number, while only 35 percent are dwindling. One example is the spotted woodpecker, whose numbers have grown by 84 percent. Like other woodpeckers, it seems to have benefited from the larger quantities of timber in the forest. Furthermore, more of the species that inhabit the wetlands around Lake Constance have increased than decreased. The winners here include the mute swan.

Nevertheless, the numbers of many forest-dwelling species are also declining. The wood warbler population, for example, has fallen by 98 percent, firecrest numbers by 61 percent. This is how the intensive use of timber around Lake Constance and the shorter felling intervals are making themselves felt. Trees containing nests are being felled even in protected areas, and breeding seasons are largely being ignored. Older trees are often felled for traffic safety reasons; new paths are laid in the forests and wet areas are drained.

All in all, the last population count in 2010-2012 documents the same developments and causes as those that preceded it. However, the situation has clearly worsened in some cases. There is hardly any indication that things have changed for the better since then. “The living conditions for birds around Lake Constance have in fact deteriorated further over the last seven years. This means that their numbers have presumably fallen still further in this time,” says Bauer.

More food and living space for birds

With its diverse structure and location in the foothills of the Alps, the Lake Constance region actually provides excellent living conditions for birds. However, the changes it has undergone over the last few decades are typical of densely populated regions with intensive farming and forestry. “This means that the rapid decline in the populations of many species that we have observed around Lake Constance is sure to be happening in other regions as well,” says Bauer.

The study is one of only a few long-term investigations of breeding bird populations ever conducted in Germany. In order to collect the most recent data, which dates from between 2010 and 2012, 90 volunteers joined the scientists and counted all the birds in an area of approximately 1,100 square kilometres surrounding Lake Constance. The ornithologists first recorded the bird population between 1980 and 1981 and have repeated the count every ten years ever since. The next count will take place between 2020 and 2022.

Measures that would benefit the bird populations include:

– The scientists are calling for agricultural and forestry policy to be reconsidered in order to counteract the rapid loss of biodiversity.

– Drastically restricting the use of insecticides and herbicides in forestry and agriculture, in public spaces and in private gardens

– Significantly reducing the use of fertilisers

– Converting at least ten percent of agricultural land to ecological conservation areas

– Leaving some areas of arable land and grassland uncultivated in winter and during the breeding season

– Late mowing outside the grassland birds’ breeding season, maintenance of flower strips and fallow areas for seed production

– At least five percent of woodland should be left completely unused

– Creating natural gardens using indigenous plants

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Little owls in Switzerland, new study


This video from England says about itself:

Footage of a little owl family filmed by David Plummer on the Knepp Wildlands, West Sussex in 2015.

From the University of Freiburg in Germany:

Little owls on the move

March 12, 2019

Summary: New study on an owl’s re-colonization of northern Switzerland.

The little owl, Athene noctua, is a small nocturnal owl and is classified as an endangered species on the German Red List. In recent years the existing population of little owls has successfully been stabilized in the south-west of Germany, and in some places numbers are even rising. In neighboring northern Switzerland on the other hand there is still no established population of little owls, even though habitat conditions seem suitable for the species. Now, a team of researchers headed by Severin Hauenstein from the Department of Biometry and Environmental Systems Analysis at the University of Freiburg has researched whether juvenile little owls from Germany could reach and re-colonize northern Switzerland. The scientists have published their results in the peer-reviewed journal Ecological Applications.

“It is difficult to predict how animals will disperse,” says Hauenstein. To explore the dispersal potential of little owls, he and his colleagues from the Swiss Ornithological Institute in Sempach, Switzerland, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research Halle-Jena-Leipzig (iDiv), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig and the University of Regensburg have developed an individual-based computer model. Using simulations, the researchers are able to assess whether individuals from the currently expanding little owl populations in south-western Germany are able to migrate to suitable habitats in northern Switzerland. Intensive farming and a steady loss of habitat has caused virtual extinction of the little owl in Switzerland.

The movement-behavior parameters in the model were estimated using Bayesian statistical inference based on radio telemetry data of juvenile little owls. Amongst other things, the researchers were able to show plausible inter-individual and -sexual behavioral differences — female juvenile little owls tend to move more directionally and fly longer distances during the dispersal phase, while their male counterparts are characterized by a tendency to take longer rests, and show a greater attachment to suitable habitat.

Hauenstein explains that the findings indicate that the little owl‘s natural re-colonization of northern Switzerland is generally possible, however there are restrictions, “Fragmented urban areas in particular, such as those around the tri-border area near Basel, appear to limit the movement of juvenile little owls drastically. Besides that, little owls avoid forested areas because that is where their natural enemy, the tawny owl, can be found; they also avoid higher altitudes such as the Swiss Jura, the Black Forest and the Swabian Alb.” In the study, the scientists highlight existing but narrow dispersal corridors, for example the lower Aare valley or the Fricktal south-east of Basel. By improving the habitat for the birds there, e.g. by agricultural extensification and nest box provision, it may be possible to expedite the re-colonization of northern Switzerland by the little owl.

Swiss Triassic fossil fish, new study


Fossil fish Eosemionotus diskosomus and relatives. Credit: A. López-Arbarello

From the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Germany:

Paleontology: Diversification after mass extinction

March 1, 2019

A team led by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich paleontologist Adriana López-Arbarello has identified three hitherto unknown fossil fish species in the Swiss Alps, which provide new insights into the diversification of the genus Eosemionotus.

Monte San Giorgio in the Swiss canton of Ticino is one of the most important known sources of marine fossils from the Middle Triassic Period (around 240 million years ago). The new and exquisitely preserved fossil fish specimens, which Dr. Adriana López-Arbarello (a member of the Institute of Paleontology and Geobiology and of the Geobiocenter at LMU) has been studying in collaboration with colleagues based in Switzerland were also discovered in these dolomites and limestones. As the researchers now report in the online journal Palaeontologia Electronica, the specimens represent three previously unknown species of Eosemionotus, a genus of ray-finned fishes. “The largest episode of mass extinction in the history of the Earth took place about 250 million years ago,” as López-Arbarello explains. “Our finds now provide further evidence that after this catastrophic event, the biosphere recovered relatively fast and went through a period of rapid diversification and the emergence of numerous new species during the Middle Triassic.”

The first member of the genus Eosemionotus was discovered in the vicinity of Berlin in 1906, and was named E. vogeli. Almost a century later, in 2004, a second species was described from Monte San Giorgio as E. ceresiensis. Detailed anatomical studies of new material from this locality, carried out by López-Arbarello, have now enabled the recognition of three further species that can be assigned to same genus — E. diskosomus, E. sceltrichensis and E. minutus. All five species are small in size, but they can be clearly distinguished from each other on the basis of the relative proportions of their bodies, the position of the fins, the morphology of the skull, and the disposition of teeth and scales. “These differences indicate that each species was adapted to different ecological niches,” López-Arbarello concludes.

These findings provide new insights into the evolution of the genus. “Our phylogenetic analyses demonstrate that Eosemionotus is the oldest known member of an extinct family within the Order Semionotiformes. Although the Semionotiformes were a species-rich and highly diversified clade during the Mesozoic Era, the order died out in the Cretaceous. Only a few members of its sister group have survived down to the present day, and this ancient lineage is now represented by a single family, the gars,” says López-Arbarello.

Lys Assia, first Eurovision song contest winner, RIP


This music video says about itself:

Eurovision 1956 Switzerland / Lys AssiaRefrain

The first Eurovision Winner ever! Switzerland and Lys Assia!!

Dutch NOS TV reported on 24 March 2018 that Ms Assia had died. Her real name was Rosa Mina Schärer. She was 94 years old.

In 2011 and 2012, when she was already in her late eighties, they tried again to represent Switzerland at the Eurovision song contest, but was not selected.

Boiling lobsters alive banned in Switzerland


This video says about itself:

11 January 2018

The Guardian has reported that as of March 1 in Switzerland “the practice of plunging live lobsters into boiling water, which is common in restaurants, is no longer permitted.” The new ban is part of a wider overhaul of Swiss animal protection laws. As David Foster Wallace points out in “Consider the Lobster” when the animals are boiled alive they flail and cling to the pot trying to escape.

Will these new laws in Switzerland also ban eating cat and dogs, still legal now?

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Switzerland forbids boiling lobsters alive, should we also do that?

From the aquarium into a pan of boiling water with claws handcuffed. It will no longer be possible in Switzerland in two months; then it will be illegal to boil lobsters alive. From now on, they must first be anesthetized by means of a power surge. …

The Party for the Animals has been working for years for a lobster-boiling ban in the Netherlands. MP Wassenberg says that several studies have shown that lobsters can feel pain. “This is a reason for Switzerland to forbid the live boiling of lobsters without prior anesthetic. The Party for the Animals has been calling for such a ban for years, but motions for that could not count on sufficient support.”

European Commissioner Andriukaitis argued earlier in a response to questions from the party that the live boiling of crustaceans and the placing of seawater crustaceans into fresh water is painful and can cause stress. Afterwards, Wassenberg asked during the budget debate in the House of Representatives whether the minister wants to take measures against it.

Electric eels solving energy problems


This 2017 video is called Electric eel immobilized a huge crocodile.

By Maria Temming:

Electric eels provide a zap of inspiration for a new kind of power source

Battery-like devices mimic how a charge builds up in the animal’s cells

1:22pm, December 13, 2017

New power sources bear a shocking resemblance to the electricity-making organs inside electric eels.

These artificial electric eel organs are made up of water-based polymer mixes called hydrogels. Such soft, flexible battery-like devices, described online October 13 in Nature, could power soft robots or next-gen wearable and implantable tech.

“It’s a very smart approach” to building potentially biocompatible, environmentally friendly energy sources and “has a bright future for commercialization”, says Jian Xu, an engineer at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge not involved in the work.

This new type of power source is modeled after rows of cells called electrocytes in the electric organ that runs along an electric eel’s body. When an eel zaps its prey, positively charged potassium and sodium atoms inside and between these cells flow toward the eel’s head, making each electrocyte’s front end positive and tail end negative. This setup creates a voltage of about 150 millivolts across each cell. The voltages of these electrocytes add up, like a lineup of AAA batteries powering a flashlight, explains Michael Mayer, a biophysicist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Collectively, an eel’s electrocytes can generate hundreds of volts.

In an effort to create a power source for future implantable technologies, a team of researchers developed an electric eel-inspired device that produced 110 volts from gels filled with water, called hydrogels. Their results show potential for a soft power source to draw on a biological system’s chemical energy: here.

Swiss Triassic reptile, new study


Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi, new specimen PIMUZ A/III 4380. Credit: Beat Scheffold; Palaeontological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich, Switzerland

From the University of Zurich in Switzerland:

Ancient Swiss reptile shows its bizarre scale armor for the first time

June 30, 2017

Grisons, 241 million years ago — Instead of amidst high mountains, a small reptile suns itself on an island beach in a warm shallow sea, where many fish and marine reptiles frolic. This is the story told by an excellently preserved new discovery of the reptile Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi studied by paleontologists from the University of Zurich.

About 20 centimeters in length, the Swiss reptile was small and juvenile, but its skin was already strongly armored with variously formed smooth, jagged or even thorny osteoderms. Its skeleton indicates a life on land, even though the animal was found together with fish and marine reptiles in the 241 million year old calcareous deposits of the Prosanto Formation near Ducanfurgga at an altitude of 2,740 meters south of Davos in the canton Grisons, Switzerland. The Swiss-British team of researchers led by Torsten Scheyer, paleontologist at the University of Zurich, and James Neenan from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History therefore assumes that it was washed off a nearby island into the sea basin and became embedded in the finely layered marine sediments after death.

Skeleton and appearance reconstructed

14 years ago, the species Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi was described using a partially preserved, completely disarticulated sample from the vicinity of the Swiss-Italian UNESCO World Heritage Site Monte San Giorgio. The new find from the Grisons Mountains, on the other hand, is very well-preserved, allowing researchers to reconstruct the skeleton and outward appearance of the animal for the first time.

In the process, they discovered something astonishing: Externally, Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi looks very similar to girdled lizards (Cordylidae), a group of small, scaled reptiles (Lepidosauria) that usually live in the dry regions of southern Africa. Some of the more strongly armored girdled lizard species could have served as the basis of mythical dragon legends due to their appearance. “This is a case of convergent development as the extinct species is not closely related to today’s African lizards”, Scheyer explains.

Related to Helveticosaurus

An exact examination of the phylogenetic relationships rather confirms that its closest relatives are marine reptiles such as ichthyosaurs (Ichthyosauria or “fish lizards”), sauropterygians (Sauropterygia “lizard flippers”) or even Helveticosaurus, a marine reptile that is unique to Switzerland, all of which have been found at Monte San Giorgio. The skeleton of Eusaurosphargis, however, shows neither a streamlined body structure, nor arms and legs that have transformed into flippers, as well as no tail fin, which would indicate a life at sea.

Discovery initially identified as fish remains

The astonishing fossil was originally discovered 15 years ago by amateur paleontologist and fossil preparator Christian Obrist during systematic fossil excavations of the University of Zurich under the leadership of Heinz Furrer, which were sponsored by the Natural History Museum of the Grisons in Chur and by the Grisons canton. It took more than a decade for the scientific value of the exceptional discovery to gradually be recognized as a result of elaborate preparation. The fossil was namely initially identified as simple fish remains. “The excavations at Ducanfurgga are still in progress today and will hopefully reveal other spectacular discoveries in the future,” Furrer says.

See also here.