Thursday, 14 December 2017

Elonus gruberi: A new species of Ant-like Leaf Beetle from the United States.

Ant-like Leaf Beetles, Aderidae, are a widespread but little-studied group of Beetles found across the globe. The adults, which in some species resemble Ants are found on the underside of the leaves of trees and shrubs, while the larvae are found in rotting wood, leaf litter, and sometimes the nests of social Insects. The group contains about a thousand species, the majority of which are found in the tropics.

In a paper publshed in the journal Zootaxa on 26 October 2017, Nicolas Gompel of the Fakultät für Biologie at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München, describes a new species of Ant-like Leaf Beetle from the United States, as part of a review of the North American genus Elonus.

The new species is named Elonus gruberi, in honour of Jeff Gruber, a friend of Nicolas Gompel, for his work collecting Beetles in North America. These Beetles range from 2.6 to 3.4 mm in length and are a dark matte brown in colour, with orange markings on the wing-cases. They are found in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin states.

Elonus gruberi, from Wisconsin. Gompel (2017).

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An Ophthalmosaurid Ichthyosaur from the Late Jurassic of Gujarat State, India.

Ichthyosaurs were Marine Reptiles known from the Triassic to the Cretaceous. They were fully-aquatic with a Dolphin-like form, and known to have given birth to live young, rather than emerging from the water to lay eggs, as is the case in Turtles and Crocodiles. The group suffered heavily in the End Triassic Extinction, but subsequently recovered their numbers, though not their diversity, with all Middle-Lat Jurassic and Cretaceous Ichthyosaurs known having belonged to a single family, the Ophthalmosauridae, with the exception of a single specimen from the Early Cretaceous of Iraq. However the known diversity of the group is prbably somewhat skewed by the fact that overwhelming majority of known Ichthyosaurs come England, with the majority of the remaining specimens coming from Europe, North America and Russia. Very few Icthyosaurs are known from Gondwana, with only three Jurassic specimens described to date, all from Argentina.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS One on 25 October 2017, Guntupalli Prasad of the Department of Geology at the University of Delhi, Dhirendra Pandey of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Group at Manipal University, Matthias Alberti of the Institut für Geowissenschaften at Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Franz Fürsich of the GeoZentrum Nordbayern at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, and Mahesh Thakkar and Gaurav Chauhan of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at KSKV Kachchh University, describe an  Ophthalmosaurid Ichthyosaur from the Late Jurassic Katrol Formation of Kachchh District in Gujarat State, India.

The specimen described comprises a premaxilla, some articulated vertebrae, a left forefin, three isolated phalanges, two mandibular fragments, some ribs, and an associated right forefin, which is probably but not certainly, from the same animal. Because of this partial and fragmentary nature it is not assigned to a specific species or genus.

Field photograph (A) accompanied with a sketch (B) of the excavated ichthyosaur skeleton in the Katrol Formation near Lodai village, Kachchh, India. Prasad et al. (2017).

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Woman swallowed by sinkhole in Guangdong Province, China.

A woman was swallowed by a sinkhole in the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, China, earlier this week. The unnamed woman had been shopping with her family and was returning with her goods laden on a bicycle, which she was pushing, when the ground collapsed beneath her. She was able to avoid sinking to far by standing on a metal pipe that crossed the hole, but was prevented from escaping by the bicycle, when fell on top of her, trapping her in position. Her family were able to rescue her with the help of passing motorists that they flagged down, by removing the bicycle and lowering a metal pole into the hole to help her climb out. The woman, who was soaked and covered in mud, was given fresh cloths by a delivery driver who had stopped at the scene, and taken to a local hospital where she was treated for injuries to her head and hands.

Sinkhole in Shenzhen, China, that swallowed a woman earlier this week. South China Morning Post.

Sinkholes are generally caused by water eroding soft limestone or unconsolidated deposits from beneath, causing a hole that works its way upwards and eventually opening spectacularly at the surface. Where there are unconsolidated deposits at the surface they can infill from the sides, apparently swallowing objects at the surface, including people, without trace.

On this occasion an investigation found that the hole had been caused by a burst water pipe, which had washed away soft sediments beneath the ground surface, creating a void into which the pavement collapsed when the woman stepped onto it.

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Phreatic eruptions on Mount Kanlaon, Negros Island.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology reported a series of phreatic eruptions (explosions caused by magma or other hot volcanic material coming into contact with water) on Mount Kanlaon, a 2465 m stratovolcano (cone shaped volcano made up of layers of ash and lava) on northern Negros Island in the central Philippines, between about 9.45 and 10.00 am local time on Saturday 9 December 2017. These eruptions were heard as far away as La Castellana, roughly 25 km to the southwest, and produced a column of ash and steam that rose 3-4 km above the summit of the volcano, with ashfalls recorded in the communities of Guintubdan, Ara-al, Sag-ang, and Ilihan.

Column of ash and steam over Mount Kanlaon, Negros Island, on 9 December 2017. GMA News.

The volcano has remained active since this event, with 578 seismic tremors recorded beneath it between 8.00 am on Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 December. Seismic activity beneath volcanoes can be significant, as they are often caused by the arrival of fresh magma, which may indicate that a volcano is about to undergo an eruptive episode.

The approximate location of Mount Kanloan. Google Maps.

The geology of the Philippines is complex, with the majority of the islands located on the east of the Sunda Plate. To the east of this lies the Philippine Sea plate, which is being subducted beneath the Sunda Plate (a breakaway part of the Eurasian Plate); further east, in the Mariana Islands, the Pacific Plate is being subducted beneath the Philippine Sea Plate. This is not a smooth process, and the rocks of the tectonic plates frequently stick together before eventually being broken apart by the rising pressure, leading to Earthquakes in the process. Material from the subducting Philippine Plate is heated by the temperature of the Earth's interior, causing lighter minerals to melt and the resultant magma to rise through the overlying Sunda Plate, fuelling the volcanoes of the Philippines.

 Subduction beneath the Philippines. Yves Descatoire/Singapore Earth Observatory.
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Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The fate of Fish-hosting Anemones during the 2016 Great Barrier Reef bleaching event.

In February-April 2016 elevated surface temperates above the Great Barrier Reef caused one of the most severe Coral bleaching events ever recorded, with over 60% of the Corals losing their symbiotic Algae. This has been the subject of numerous studies, though the vast majority of these have concentrated on the Corals themselves rather than other inhabitants of the reef system.

In a paper published in the journal Coral Reefs on 4 April 2017, Anna Scott of the National Marine Science Centre at Southern Cross University and Andrew Hoey of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, describe the effect of the bleaching event on the Fish-hosting Anemones and their attendant Anemonefish in the lagoon of Lizard Island on following the 2016 Great Barrier Reef bleaching event.

Scott and Hoey visited the lagoon in 10-15 April 2017, and recorded the Fish-hosting Anemones present, then retured on 17-22 October to re-examine the Anemones again.

The most abundant  Fish-hosting Anemones in the lagoon belonged to the Bubble-tip Anemone, Entacmaea quadricolor, with ten colonial clumps and two individuals. Also present were single individuals of the Leather Anemone, Heteractis cripsa, and the Magnificent Sea Anemone, Heteractis magnifica. All of these Anemones were bleached. Living within these Anemones were nineteen Fire Clownfish, Amphiprion melanopus, three Orange Clownfish, Amphiprion  percula, and two Spine-Cheeked Anemonefish, Premnas biaculeatus. Also present were three Mertens' Carpet Sea Anemones, Stichodactyla mertensii, which was not bleached and which were host to nine Clark's Anemonefish, Amphiprion clarkii.

A bleached Magnificent Sea Anemone, Heteractis magnifica., with attendant Orange Clownfish, Amphiprion  percula, in April 2017. Scott & Hoey (2017).

By October the the Magnificent Sea Anemone, had completely recovered, but the Leather Anemone, had vanished, as had one of the solitary Bubble-tip Anemones and six of the colonies; the remaining colonies showed signs of having began to recover, but the remaining solitary Bubble-tip Anemone remained bleached. Most of the Fish remained, but the number of Fire Clownfish had fallen by nine (almost half), presumably in reaction to the loss of habitat.

 A recovering Magnificent Sea Anemone, Heteractis magnifica., with attendant Orange Clownfish, Amphiprion  percula, in October 2017. Scott & Hoey (2017).

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Using molecular genomics to understand the social behaviour of Woolly Mammoths.

The Woolly Mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius, is thought to have diverged from the earlier Steppe Mammoth Mammuthus trogontherii in northeast Asia around 700 000 years ago and by 200 000 years ago spread across Asia and into Europe and across the Bering Strait into North America. As a widespread and apparently numerous species living in the recent past they have left an extensive fossil record, primarily of isolated teeth and bones, but also including a number of mummified and frozen specimens, trapped within the Arctic permafrost. This has allowed a number of detailed anatomical and molecular studies of the Woolly Mammoth, using specimens that were excavated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Despite this wealth of data there is relatively little direct information on the behaviour of these animals available, with most of our ideas about the social structure of Mammoths based upon extrapolation from living Elephant species rather than direct evidence.

In a paper published in the journal Current Biology on 2 November 2017, Patrícia Pe cnerova of the Department of Bioinformatics and Genetics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and the Department of Zoology at Stockholm University, David Díez-del-Molino and Nicolas Dussex, also of the Department of Bioinformatics and Genetics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Tatiana Feuerborn, again of the Department of Bioinformatics and Genetics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, amd of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, Johanna von Seth, again of the Department of Bioinformatics and Genetics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and the Department of Zoology at Stockholm University, Johannes van der Plicht of the Centre for Isotope Research at Groningen University, and the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University, Pavel Nikolskiy of the Geological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexei Tikhonov of the Zoological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences and the Institute of the Applied Ecology of the North at the North-Eastern Federal University, Sergey Vartanyan of the North-East Interdisciplinary Scientific Research Institute N.A.N.A. Shilo of the Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Love Dal én, once again of the of Bioinformatics and Genetics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, present the results of a study in which they determined the sexes of 98 Woolly Mammoth specimens from different locations in Siberia and on Wrangel Island.

 The Siegsdorfer Mammut, in the Südostbayerisches Naturkunde und Mammut-Museum, the largest complete Mammoth specimen in Europe, thought to be a male. Lou Gruber/Wikimedia Commons.

Pecnerova et al. were able to identify the sex of 95 Mammoths, of which 66 were male and 29 were female, a noteworthy and clearly significant difference. Modern Elephants, like almost all Mammals, produce male and female offspring in equal proportions, and there is no reason to suspect that Mammoths were any different in this regard, suggesting that male Mammoths were more likely to enter the fossil record than female Mammoths.

Elephants show distinct sexual dimorphism, with males significantly larger than females. As a rule of thumb, the hard tissues of larger animals are more likely to survive intact until they are buried than those of smaller animals, simply because they are harder for other animals to break down. However Pecnerova et not believe that this is likely to have been a significant factor in the case of Mammoths, as all Mammoths were sufficiently large to be difficult for any other animal found in their environment to break down. Furthermore most Mammoth specimens for which data on their origins are available seem to have come from natural traps, such as sinkholes, mudflows or pools, where their remains were buried rapidly, whereas remains left on open tundra will tend to remain exposed for years or even centuries, where the action of the weather can break down even the largest bones.

Instead, Pecnerova et al. suggest that the behaviour of the Mammoths when they were alive may have played a role in how likely they were to enter the fossil record.Modern Elephants have a complex social structure, with female Elephants living in family groups with their young and each such group having a set territory which they know very well. Males leave these groups when they approach sexual maturity, and live in male groups which are much wider ranging, and less defined in structure, with the youngest males not being automatically accepted into such a group, and often having to range over very large areas before they find a male pack that will accept them - if they do so at all. The largest, sexually mature, males leave these packs, becoming intolerant of other males, particularly when they are in musth (a heightened state of sexual agitation, and range over very wide areas looking for available females.

This more adventurous lifestyle means that male Elephants, unlike females, spend much of their lives in unfamiliar territory. If the same held true for Woolly Mammoths then males of this species would have been more likely to encounter unfamiliar hazards, such as sinkholes or swamps, which females would be taught to avoid by older members of the herd if they lie within their territory. This matches closely with what is observed in the fossil record, with predominantly male specimens preserved in geographical traps, which Pecnerova et al. believe is evidence of a similar social structure in Mammoths to that in Elephants.

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Explosion kills one at Austrian gas distribution centre.

One person has died and at least 21 more have been injured following an explosion at a gas-processing plant at Baumgarten in Austria on Tuesday 12 December 2017. The incident happened at about 8.45 am local time, and triggered a fire which swept through the plant, which is operated by Austrian gas company Gas Connect, and caries natural gas supplied by Russia's Gazprom to Austria and countries to the south. The cause of the blast has not yet been established.

Column of fire over the Baumgarten Gas-hub following an explosion on 12 December 2017. Tomáš Hulik/Reuters.

The explosion has caused immediate concerns about gas supplies to southern Europe, with Italy declaring a state of emergency after retail gas prices rose 97% in twenty four hours, and supplies to Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia are also threatened. The incident has effected even parts of Europe not directly supplied through the Baumgarten plant, with gas prices up 35% in the UK, Europe's largest consumer of natural gas, though this partly due to technical problems interrupting supplies from both the British and Norwegian North Sea Oilfields.

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