African desert ants smell very well


This video says about itself:

BBC Silver Desert Ant, Cataglyphis, Sahara Desert

Clip from BBC’s Africa, episode 5, Sahara, 2013, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Includes behind the scenes footage.

From the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany:

Desert ants have an amazing odor memory

The insects can learn many food odors and remember them all their lives

September 24, 2018

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology used behavioral experiments to show that desert ants are able to quickly learn many different food odors and remember them for the rest of their lives. However, their memory for nest odors seems to differ from their food odor memory: Whereas food odors are learned and kept after a single contact, ants need several trials to memorize nest odors. Moreover, ants forget a nest-associated odor very quickly after it has been removed from the nest. Hence, ants process food and nest odors differently in their brains.

The desert ant Cataglyphis fortis has amazing abilities to trace food and to return to its nest in the North African desert. Its sense of smell has a central function for orientation. The ant is not only a master navigator, it is also a memory artist. Behavioral scientists Markus Knaden from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology has been studying the navigational skills of this ant species for years. Until now, he was particularly interested in how the small insects find their way back to their nest after an extensive search for food in the vast salt pans of the Tunisian Sahara. After all, the nest entrance is only a small inconspicuous hole in the desert surface. He and his team found that — apart from other factors — the specific nest odor plays a crucial role. However, during their experiments, the researchers had noticed that ants learned food odors much faster than nest odors. “Our central question was whether different types of memory exist for food and nest search. The idea to compare both learning processes popped up when we observed that the ants were able to learn food odors so incredibly fast in comparison to nest odors which need to be trained much longer”, first author Roman Huber explains.

The scientists developed a simple experiment to test the response of ants to more than 30 different food odors. They held the end of a stick which had been scented with an odor about two meters away from a foraging ant on the ground so that the wind blew the odor to the ant. At first, most odors were ignored by the ants and did not evoke any response. “After we had offered a food crumb to the ants which had been scented with one of these odors, however, the ants were almost always attracted by this odor afterwards”, Markus Knaden says. “We were amazed how quickly the ants learned food-associated odors and how long they could remember them. Even ants that had learned an odor more than 25 days ago were able to remember it.” In nature, most ants have a short life and are usually killed by a predator within six days. Therefore it is particularly astonishing that ants that have reached more than four times the average age could still remember what they had learned.

On the other hand, ants were not able to learn nest-associated odors as quickly as food odors. When the researchers attached a scent to the nest entrance, the ants needed five to ten trials to learn the odor as a nest cue. Only after several trainings did they concentrate their nest search on this odor. When the odor was removed from the nest and after the ants had returned to the nest a few times, they completely stopped responding to the former nest cue. In ants, odors are obviously processed differently in the brain depending on whether they are food or nest cues.

Markus Knaden provides an explanation: “The two different odor memories make sense. During its entire life, an ant encounters many different pieces of food while foraging. Since the insect finds its food mainly through olfactory cues, it is important for an ant to learn the odor of good food in order to specifically search for it later. The nest, in contrast, should always smell the same during an ant’s short life. Therefore no extraordinary memory is needed to locate the nest entrance by following olfactory cues. It is sufficient if an ant knows how the nest smelled when it left to search for food, to find it on its way home. It is unlikely that the nest odor changes while an ant is away foraging.”

The scientists now want to design lab studies to underpin the results of the behavioral experiments in the natural habitat of the desert ants. Their goal is to employ imaging techniques, like calcium imaging, to locate and visualize the different memories in the ant brain and to compare brain activities during food and nest search. “We already use similar techniques for the visualization of brain activity in flies and moths. It would be great to establish these techniques for ants as well, because ants exhibit a particularly complex behavior”, Markus Knaden says.

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Tunisian women’s victory


This video says about itself:

2 August 2017

In Tunisia, the Parliament has passed a new law to protect women and girls from violence including rape. Rape survivors and civil society organisations have welcomed the new legislation as a progressive step for the country. Adnen Chaouachi has the details.

Translated from Dutch daily De Volkskrant:

Tunisian Muslim women can now marry non-Muslims. The 1973 ministerial circular prohibiting such mixed marriages has been revoked.

While Muslim men had always been free to marry non-Muslim women. So, this anti-women government decision was by the pre-Arab Spring regime, known from dictator Ben Ali. A regime, often praised as ‘moderate’ and ‘secular’ by NATO country media, because wearing headscarves was illegal. In fact, stopping women who themselves want to wear headscarves is just as dictatorial as stopping women who themselves want to wear miniskirts.

The spokesman for President Béji Caïd Essebsi announced that on Thursday.

By Rob Vreeken September 14, 2017, 19:00

A month ago, on the occasion of the Women’s Festival on August 13, Essebsi had asked the government to annul the circular. That has happened now. …

Following the 2011 Arab Spring, which led to a democratic transition only in Tunisia, new steps were taken to anchor women’s rights.

A ‘historical project’

In July, Tunisian adopted a law that extensively prohibits all forms of violence against women. Not only physical violence is more harshly punished, but all acts of “moral, sexual, psychological and economic aggression” against women are now punishable. Human Rights Watch (HRW) human rights organization spoke of a “milestone” for women’s rights. Minister of Women’s Affairs Neziha Labidi calls it a ‘historical project’.

Tunisian women‘s groups had fought for a long time for such a law.

Tunisian conservation after the Arab Spring


This video says about itself:

20 January 2017

Watch our short documentary about the Bou Hedma National Park! in June 2016 we released this short film “Forgotten places of Tunisia – Wild Bou Hedma”. It is an appeal to save this unique wild habitat and endangered species.

The Bou Hedma NP has never enjoyed a fraction of the support it deserves from government. It has always been treated as an afterthought, falling victim to the misguided philosophy that it should cost very little to maintain a mountain range, an acacia savannah or threatened native wildlife species.

Please share this video and help to save one of Tunisia’s last wild and exceptional habitats. The park is not going to survive unless we can convince more people of its value. I think we need to make a better case that Bou Hedma NP needs more resources, more love, more attention and more active scientists and researchers. We should not let things come so far as to be lost forever.

By Shaun Hurrell:

11 Aug 2017

After the Arab Spring: Learning to love nature again

From “protect by punishment” to “protect by involving people”: read about the peaceful revolution that is changing nature conservation in North Africa and the Middle East

Our relationship with nature is dependent on more than the way the wind blows and the flowers bloom. During a period of societal turmoil, for example, nature can become an unlikely political symbol.

In Tunisia, Awatef Abiadh saw it happen during the Arab Spring: “The Protected Area system was established by the government without any consultation with local communities”, she says. “Declared by law. Full-stop.”

As such, during the Tunisian revolution, people turned their resentment of an oppressive regime to collateral damage. “Locals ransacked Ichkeul, Bouhedma and Chaambi National Parks, taking threatened species like oryx and gazelle, and cutting many trees in anger against the government”, she recalls.

For Abiadh, this showed there was a lack of harmony between local people and nature across the region, and today inspires her work for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), which has invested in bringing people together for conservation in the Mediterranean for the last five years.

“I grew up in the countryside in Kairouan where I learned my first lessons about nature,” says Abiadh. “We needed to use and exploit nature to earn our life, but we loved it and kept it close.”

Abiadh started a career as a teacher, but in 2007 whilst working as a lecturer, she became involved with a series of wildlife surveys on Tunisian islands, because her supervisor was seasick and suggested she go instead.

Volunteering and a passion for conservation followed, and today she works as the Programme Officer for North Africa for the CEPF Mediterranean Hotspot, granting projects and helping non-governmental organisations (NGOs), large and new, with their social and environmental challenges.

“Since we started in the hotspot, we have contributed to a 180-degree change in conservation, from ‘protect by punishment’, to ‘protect by involving more local peoplee’”, she says.

The project closest to her heart, and family home, is led by Notre Grand Bleu (NGB; “Our Big Blue”), a local group of nature enthusiasts and divers that emerged out of the Arab Spring into a fully-fledged NGO, and were granted by CEPF to protect the Kuriat Islands – and their Endangered turtles – from bad tourist management and fishing.

Kuriat is a positive story of hope, where NGB succeeded in forming the first ever co-managed committee for nature conservation in Tunisia. Jamel Jrijer, NGB, said: “Engaging locals in conservation activities gives them a sense of belonging and creates commitment to good environmental practice.”

Together with 18 stakeholders including government, research, tourism, and fishing, NGB are close to creating a Marine Protected Area that everyone is behind. Whilst the Arab Spring helped mobilise North African civil society, some organisations of course already existed.

AREA-ED, in neighbouring Algeria, was founded in 1998 and has worked to create the National Parks Babor and Tadabort, providing crucial high-altitude habitat for an endemic and Critically Endangered Algerian fir tree, resident fluffy monkeys, barbary macaque (Endangered), and bark-climbing Algerian Nuthatch Sitta ledanti (Endangered) – all threatened by fire, illegal logging and overgrazing.

A CEPF project in 2014 allowed AREA-ED to work in new ways. “Both of these projects are the first times a participatory approach has been used in creating protected areas in North Africa,” says Abiadh. One lesson that has emerged from all 106 CEPF grants in the Mediterranean is that nature conservation is a powerful way of bringing diverse people together, and even just time spent in nature can be transformational for some.

When you see the smiles on people’s faces at a turtle hatchling release on the Kuriat Islands, it’s easy to understand; but perhaps nowhere is it more important than in trying to rebuild a country in civil war: Libya. …

Despite a low level of species endemism (4% unique to the country) Libya certainly has some great natural assets. With nearly 200 km of Mediterranean coast and a vast semi-arid region leading to the Sahara Desert, there are coral reefs, ponds and mangroves; plus salt marshes and mud flats for migratory birds. “Ecotourism is a realistic opportunity for Libya once conditions allow,” says Abiadh.

Sadly, ever since NATO’s 2011 war on Libya, conditions clearly do not allow.

“Wherever people have free time, they enjoy spending it in nature. In Tunisia, we have ecotourism projects that are still receiving a lot of local visitors, and from abroad e.g. Algeria.”

Tunisian fishermen stop neonazi anti-refugee ship


Tunisian fishermen gather on August 6, 2017 in the port of Zarzis in southeastern Tunisia to protest against a possible berthing of the neonazi anti-refugee C-Star vessel (AFP Photo/FATHI NASRI)

From AFP news agency:

Tunisian fishermen stall ‘racist’ anti-migrant ship’s progress

Giovanni GREZZI

August 6, 2017

ABOARD the MS AQUARIUS – Fishermen at a Tunisian port on Sunday prevented a ship carrying far-right anti-immigration activists from docking, dealing a fresh blow to a controversial mission aimed at disrupting the flow of migrant boats from north Africa to Europe.

Faced with the prospect of being blocked by the fishermen in Zarzis, the ship, the C-Star, moved up the Tunisian coast, and was expected by opponents tracking its path to try to land at either Sfax or Gabes on Monday.

Chartered by extremist group “Generation Identity“,

“Generation Identity”, like “alt-right“, is just a new name for old Hitlerite nazism. These C-Star fascists who want violence against refugees fleeing from NATO’s wars to Europe are Holocaust denialists.

According to Dutch NOS TV today, canoeists and water cyclists helped the fishermen block Zarzis harbour for the racist ship.

the C-Star passed through waters off Libya on Saturday.

It briefly tailed the Aquarius, operated by French group SOS Mediterranee, one of several NGO boats conducting search and rescue operations in an area notorious for deadly migrant boat sinkings.

Having left Cyprus on August 1, the 40-metre (130-foot) C-Star needs to land in Tunisia for supplies but appeared to have been caught off guard by the strength of opposition among local fishermen, as well as rights groups.

“If they come here we’ll close the refuelling channel,” Chamseddine Bourassine, the head of the local fishermen’s organisation, told AFP.

“It is the least we can do given what is happening out in the Mediterranean,” he added.

“Muslims and Africans are dying.”

An official at the port, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “What? Us let in racists here? Never!”

– 10,000 dead –

The C-Star headed straight from Cyprus to Libyan waters after being discouraged from attempting to dock en route in Greece and Sicily, with authorities concerned about the prospect of protests.

The self-styled “Defend Europe” mission has not got off to the best of starts.

Their boat was held up for a week in the Suez Canal by Egyptian authorities looking for weapons.

Then, after it landed in the Cypriot port of Famagusta last month, several of its crew jumped ship and asked for asylum in Europe — exactly the kind of thing the mission was set up to prevent. …

Humanitarian groups say Generation Identity is engaged in a publicity stunt and that any attempt to turn migrant boats back to Libya would be potentially very dangerous and illegal under international law.

Since the start of 2014, some 600,000 people from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia have been rescued from traffickers’ boats and taken to Italy.

Over 10,000 have died en route and serial sinkings have resulted in privately funded or charity-run boats joining a multinational search and rescue operation coordinated by Italy’s coastguard.

NGO boats have rescued around one-third of the nearly 100,000 people picked up this year, but their relations with Italy have become strained as pressure to stem the flow of migrants has mounted. …

Rights organisations have voiced concern over the focus on sending boats back to Libya, where migrants who fail to get to Europe often end up in detention in squalid camps where they risk torture, sexual violence and forced labour. …

The crisis has also caused strains in Rome’s relations with its EU neighbours, who have blocked migrants landing in Italy from travelling further north.

See also here.

The latest news from today is that the neonazi ship does not sail any more, but has been, and still is, stranded for over a day, miles off the Tunisian coast.

Failed Defend Europe mission comes to an end. 17/08/2017 – Joe Mulhall: here.