Katy Hayes and her family have noticed an increase in bird and insect life around their homestead at Arckaringa Cattle Station, 90 kilometres south-west of Oodnadatta.
The station received more than 200 millimetres of rain over the past two weeks.
Director of the centre for ecosystem science at UNSW, Richard Kingsford, said new life emerged immediately after the rain.
He said insects and crustaceans almost straight away hatched out of eggs that have been sitting there since the last flood.
“A lot of them have been buried, ready for something to happen,” Professor Kingsford said.
With wildlife, comes more wildlife.
“It attracts this incredible food web of herbivores, invertebrate feeding birds, and you’ve got the predators, the hawks and eagles, and big fish that are eating little fish so it’s an amazing landscape,” Professor Kingsford said.
In some parts of the state, water levels are already falling but, Professor Kingsford said, the greenery will stick around longer, with plants still set to flower.
“You get this absolute blanket of different-coloured flowers across the desert, which will be particularly spectacular, probably this spring,” he said.
University of Adelaide ecologist John Read, who lives east of Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula, said aquatic animals, such as shield and clam shrimp, were turning up in water holes.
“You don’t see them in dry times,” he said.
Experts such as Dr Read have also predicted baby animals, including kangaroos, will be on their way.
“There’s going to be a whole range of changes we see over the next 12 months,” Dr Read said.
Professor Kingsford said one of the most impressive sights in flooded inland Australia was often the thousands of budgies that flock to the water.
“They’re just magic,” he told ABC Radio’s This Week with Linda Mottram.
“They have this amazing capability of knowing when it’s on … and being able to find where the good times are happening in the deserts.”
Dr Read said that, while the matter of how the birds do it remains a mystery, they are able to navigate thousands of kilometres to end up near water.
“They time their arrival just perfectly to take advantage of food resources in lakes or swamps,” he said.
But the floodwaters bring a potential downside too, with weeds and invasive species set to cause problems.
“We’re concerned about buffel grass, which is a really dangerous invasive grass that [covers] the environment and causes big fires,” Dr Read said.
He also cautioned that feral cats and foxes would make their way to where rabbits and mice have been breeding, causing problems over the next year or so, too.
#AceNewsReport – Feb.03: Astronomers have just peered into the atmosphere of one of the most extreme exoplanets ever discovered.
#AceNewsDesk says in the past, astronomers often assumed that the atmospheres of exoplanets exist as a uniform layer and try to understand it as such,” says astronomer Jens Hoeijmakers of Lund University in Sweden: The research has been published in Nature Astronomy.
Although it’s absolutely not habitable (at least as we understand it), the exoplanet WASP-189b is the first in which scientists have been able to probe distinct atmospheric layers, each with their own chemical compositions and characteristics.
“But our results demonstrate that even the atmospheres of intensely irradiated giant gas planets have complex three-dimensional structures.”
WASP-189b is a member of one of the most intriguing subsets of exoplanets: hot Jupiters. These extreme worlds are gas giants – like Jupiter – but on insanely close orbits with their host stars, whizzing around in less than 10 days. Naturally, their temperatures are therefore scorching.
In addition, we don’t know why they are like that. According to our current models of planetary formation, a gas giant can’t form that close to its star, because the gravity, radiation, and intense stellar winds ought to keep the gas from clumping together; yet, of the nearly 5,000 exoplanets confirmed to date, over 300 could be hot Jupiters. Learning more about these hell-worlds should thus reveal more about the dynamics of planetary systems.
WASP-189b, about 322 light-years away, is among the most extreme (although it’s not quite the most). It’s about 1.6 times the size of Jupiter, and orbits its star on a breakneck 2.7-day period. That star is young and hot, which means surface temperatures of WASP-189b reach up to 3,200 degrees Celsius (5,792 degrees Fahrenheit) on its day side, making the planet hotter than some stars.
It’s also one of the brightest transiting exoplanets known; that is, it passes between us and its star. In turn, that makes it very attractive for atmospheric studies.
“We measured the light coming from the planet’s host star and passing through the planet’s atmosphere,” explains astronomer Bibiana Prinothof Lund University, who led the research.
“The gases in its atmosphere absorb some of the starlight, similar to ozone absorbing some of the sunlight in Earth’s atmosphere, and thereby leave their characteristic ‘fingerprint’. With the help of HARPS [High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher aboard ESO’s La Silla Observatory] we were able to identify the corresponding substances.”
Interestingly, the researchers also found traces of titanium oxide, which has never been conclusively detected in an exoplanetary atmosphere before, the researchers said. Titanium oxide is found rarely in nature on Earth, but on WASP-189b, its presence could be helping shape the atmosphere.
“Its detection could therefore indicate a layer in the atmosphere of WASP-189b that interacts with the stellar irradiation similarly to how the ozone layer does on Earth.”
There was another big clue that the team was observing layers in the exoplanet’s atmosphere, too. Elements in space are detected spectrally; that is, we split the light detected by our instruments into the full spectrum, and look for brighter or darker lines. These indicate that something is either amplifying or absorbing those wavelengths, what we call emission or absorption lines.
Absorption lines can then be traced to specific elements that we know absorb those wavelengths. But the absorption lines from WASP-189b were not quite where the researchers expected them to be.
“We believe that strong winds and other processes could generate these alterations,” Prinoth said.
“And because the fingerprints of different gases were altered in different ways, we think that this indicates that they exist in different layers – similarly to how the fingerprints of water vapor and ozone on Earth would appear differently altered from a distance, because they mostly occur in different atmospheric layers.”
Obviously we won’t be traveling to WASP-189b anytime soon. Even if we were, life as we know it would be mega-kaput before we even landed; however, the research still has relevance to the search for life. It represents a new milestone in probing exoplanetary atmospheres, which is where we are most likely to spot the signs of alien life.
“I am often asked if I think my research is relevant to the search for life elsewhere in the Universe. My answer is always yes. This type of study is a first step in this search,” Prinoth said.
#AceNewsReport – Feb.03: The huge international research effort – involving the work of over 100 scientists – estimates that there are approximately 73,000 tree species in total on Earth, yet so far we’ve only documented about 64,000 of these.
#AceNewsDesk says according to Science Alert: Planet Earth Contains Over 9,000 Tree Species Yet to Be Discovered, Scientists Say: We combined individual datasets into one massive global dataset of tree-level data,” says quantitative forest ecologist Jingjing Liang of Purdue University from Purdue University:
The remainder, researchers say, equates to roughly 9,200 undiscovered tree species that so far have eluded scientific attention and study.
“Each set comes from someone going out to a forest stand and measuring every single tree – collecting information about the tree species, sizes, and other characteristics. Counting the number of tree species worldwide is like a puzzle with pieces spread all over the world.”
Tree species and individuals per continent in the GFBI database. (Gatti et al., PNAS, 2022)
The data-pooling project, combining many years’ worth of ground-sourced tree cataloguing, compiled a global occurrence dataset of tree species across a grid of over nine thousand 100 × 100-kilometer (62 x 62-mile) cells on the planet.
With statistical adjustments accounting for the comparative richness of biomes in different regions, the researchers inferred that there are likely about 9,200 tree species yet to be discovered, although they fully acknowledge this is an estimate based on incomplete data, including areas where the mapping and analysis of tree species is limited.
Nonetheless, the analysis delivers important new insights on the distribution and occurrence of trees around the world.
“Our estimates at continental scales show that roughly 43 percent of all Earth’s tree species occur in South America, followed by Eurasia (22 percent), Africa (16 percent), North America (15 percent), and Oceania (11 percent),” the researchers write in their new study.
“More undiscovered species likely occur in South America than any other continent.”
The South American species not yet discovered are thought to constitute about 40 percent of all undiscovered species. South America also contains the highest number of rare species (about 8,200 species), and the highest percentage (49 percent) of endemic species not found on other continents.
” This makes forest conservation of paramount priority in South America, especially considering the current tropical forest crisis from anthropogenic impacts such as deforestation, fires and climate change.”
“Beyond the 27,000 known tree species in South America, there might be as many as another 4,000 species yet to be discovered there,” saysforest ecologist Peter Reich from the University of Michigan.
In recent years, that crisis has come into painfully clearer focus, and the researchers say it’s imperative that we identify the true diversity of tree life as soon as possible, so as to be able to better shield these threatened species from the changes imperiling them.
“This new global dataset is a significant piece of the puzzle in ecology and biodiversity,” says forest researcher Andy Marshall from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia.
“The better the information, the better we can inform national and international plans for conservation priorities and biodiversity targets and management – potentially saving endangered tree species in the process.”
#AceDailyNews says according to magazine report the orange-winged insect’s population increased from 2,000 in 2020 to nearly 250,000 in 2021: Margaret OsborneJanuary 28, 2022Monarch butterflies cluster together to stay warm.
We’re ecstatic with the results and hope this trend continues,” says Emma Pelton, the Western Monarch Lead with the Xerces Society, in a statement. “There are so many environmental factors at play across their range that there’s no single cause or definitive answer for this year’s uptick, but hopefully it means we still have time to protect this species.”
Though monarch numbers increased, they are far from the millions that California saw in the 1980s. In 2020, this represented a 99.9 percent decline, write Pelton and Stephanie McKnight on Xerces’ blog. Scientists think threats including habitat loss and pesticide use caused population numbers to plummet.
The United States is home to two populations of monarch butterflies that are separated by the Rockies. The eastern population flies south to Mexico for the winter, while the western one overwinters in California.
Pacific Grove, California, also called “Butterfly Town USA,” has celebrated the arrival of the monarchs every October since 1939 in its Butterfly Parade. In 2020, the town saw no monarchs in its two-acre sanctuary, one of California’s main overwintering sites, reports Erika Mahoney for KAZU News. Scientists think threats including habitat loss and pesticide use caused monarch butterfly populations to decline in the western U.S. Steven Katovich, Bugwood.org
“I cried in my car because I’ve seen it coming, but I did not think I would not be able to find one monarch,” Connie Masotti, the Monterey County regional coordinator for the Thanksgiving count, told KAZU in January 2021.
Late last year, the sanctuary counted thousands.
“I don’t recall having such a bad year before and I thought they were done,” Moe Ammar, president of Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce, told the Associated Press’s Haven Daley and Olga R. Rodriguez last November. “They were gone. They’re not going to ever come back and sure enough, this year, boom, they landed.”
In 2014, the Xerces Society and other groups petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect monarchs as a threatened species. The USFW determined in 2020 that “listing the monarch under the Endangered Species Act is warranted but precluded at this time by higher priority listing actions.” It will review the status of monarch butterflies each year until they are no longer a candidate.
Scientists don’t know exactly why the monarch count increased last year, but some hypotheses include ideal weather conditions, fewer pesticides used during the Covid-19 pandemic, wildfires preparing the ground for wildflower growth, new additions from the eastern population and less competition, reports Alissa Greenberg for NOVA Next. It’s most likely a combination, experts tell NOVA.Western monarch butterflies cluster in Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. Lisa Damerel
David James, an entomologist at Washington State University, tells staff at the Guardian that fewer monarchs counted in 2020 could have been because the butterflies spread out instead of clustering.
“When we only had 2,000 overwintering at the traditional sites, at the same time there were many reports inland in San Francisco and the LA area of monarch butterflies reproducing in people’s backyards and parks and gardens throughout the winter,” he tells the Guardian.
Though more monarchs overwintering this year is a cause for celebration, the Xerces Society warns that the numbers are still low.
“It’s crucial to remember that the modest uptick we’re seeing is not population recovery or even evidence of an upward trajectory,” researchers write in a Xerces’ blog. “The population is still dangerously close to collapse, and there remains an urgent need to address the threats that this butterfly faces.”
#AceNewsReport – Oct.24: People have relied on the modern horse to plow fields, charge into battle and traverse long distances for millennia. Horses have transformed human societies with every stride. But scientists have struggled to answer the seemingly simple of question of when and where these animals were domesticated.
#AceDailyNews says ‘They Help Us Plough The Fields & Scatter’ and now according to latest report ‘Genetic Sequencing Pinpoints the Origins of the Domestic Horse’ and it took an international team of more than 160 scientists to pinpoint the origins of the modern horse’s domestication: between 4,200 and 4,700 years ago near the Volga and Don Rivers in southwestern Russia: The team reported their findings this week in the journal Nature.
The researchers collected samples from 273 ancient horses that once lived across Europe and Asia between 50,000 and 200 B.C.E. Using DNA sequencing, the team created a genetic map that allowed them to trace the horses’ lineages. They found four separate lineages, but the one most closely related to modern horses originated in the Volga-Don region, reports Genelle Weule for ABC in Australia.
Their genetic map also revealed that up until about 2,000 B.C.E., horse populations across Europe and Asia were genetically diverse. But within just a few centuries thereafter, the level of variation plummeted, and all domestic horses could be traced back to the population in the Volga-Don region, reports Jonathan Lambert for Science News.
This likely happened when people living in the Volga-Don region began breeding wild horses for domestication and traveled with them to faraway places. Soon enough, this lineage took over Europe and Asia. It happened “almost overnight,” researcher Ludovic Orlando, a molecular archaeologist at the Centre for Anthropobiology and Genomics of Toulouse in France, tells Rebecca Dzombak for National Geographic. “This was not something that built up over thousands of years.”
“As they expanded, they replaced all the previous lineages that were roaming around Eurasia,” he says. The horse we know today “is the winner, the one we see everywhere, and the other types are sort of the losers.”
Genetic sequencing also identified two key genes in the modern horse’s ancestors that are linked to greater docility and an improved weight-bearing ability, which could explain why they became so prolific, reports Sabrina Imbler for the New York Times.
Breeders likely selected for “two really good factors not [previously] present in any horse,” Orlando tells Science News. “That created an animal that was both easier to interact and move with.”
This study also throws a wrench in previous front-running theories. For example, it was thought that the Yamnaya people migrated westward into Europe around 5,000 years ago on horseback. It was a monumental migration that transformed European ancestry, Ann Gibbons reported for Science in 2017. But this study says otherwise—the Yamnaya must have migrated on oxen instead of horses, since horses weren’t domesticated until around 4,000 years ago, according to the Times.
The researchers offer an alternate theory: domestic horses made their way across Europe—and started replacing other lineages—during the expansion of the Sintashta culture. This happened around 3,800 years ago during the Bronze Age when horse-drawn chariots rolled in hordes of people, the Times reports.
“The history of humans is wrapped up in horse DNA,” Kate Kanne, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter in the U.K., tells National Geographic. “It tells the story of both our species.”
#AceNewsReport – Aug.27: Members of her hunter-gatherer culture, the Toaleans, filled in the grave, and there she remained undisturbed for more than 7,000 years — until she was unearthed by Indonesian archaeologists in 2015…..
#AceDailyNews says that curled up in the bottom of a shallow, oval-shaped pit, legs hugged to her chest, a young woman was laid to rest on the island of Sulawesi: Nicknamed Bessé’ after a south Sulawesi royal naming custom, she was found in a high-ceilinged limestone cavern named Leang Panninge, or “Bat Cave”, and unveiled today in the journal Nature.
Large water-worn rocks, taken from a nearby river, were placed either side of her head and on top of her body.
Her skeleton provided the first ancient human DNA from what is considered the early migration gateway to Australia — and harboured tantalising signs of a Asian population we didn’t know existed until now.
It appears this mysterious group made their way into southern Sulawesi after the first people arrived in Papua New Guinea and Australia, says archaeologist and study co-author Adam Brumm from Griffith University.
“It seems as though there was this other wave of modern human colonisation of the region, which we’re only now seeing evidence for because we have an ancient genome from this Toalean woman.”
Most archaeologists are confident that the first inhabitants made their way through a bunch of South-East Asian islands collectively known as Wallacea.
Thousands of years ago, sea levels were far lower than they are today.
This meant islands like Borneo, Sumatra and Java were connected by land, and Australia and Papua New Guinea were a single landmass called Sahul.
It’s thought humans could have reached Sahul in a few ways, says University of Adelaide evolutionary biologist Bastien Llamas, who was not involved with the study.
For instance, one route extended from Java to Timor, then across the ocean to reach Sahul, while another winded its way from Sumatra to what is now the southern ends of Borneo and Sulawesi,then involved island-hopping to Sahul.
The Toaleans were a more recent population. They lived a fairly secluded existence as hunter-gatherers in the southern Sulawesi forests from around 8,000 to 1,500 years ago, Professor Brumm said.
Carbon-dated pollen grains from the sediment surrounding Bessé”s remains place her living between 7,200 and 7,300 years ago, and her bones signal she was around 17 or 18 years old when she died.
There were no clues as to how she died, with no obvious signs of injuries or infections that leave their mark in bone.
The archaeologists did find serrated, comb-like arrowheads typical of Toaleans in the grave with her, which may have been a ritual offering but could also have unintentionally fallen in, Professor Brumm said.
However, the stones placed around and on her body might have meaning.
“These burials are oftentimes associated with rocks, which maybe symbolically were involved with keeping the person’s spirit from leaving their bodies, possibly — but that’s pure speculation.”
And while burial sites, art and artefacts give insights into the cultural practices of people who lived in Wallacea over the millennia, DNA provides a snapshot of their ancestry.
Story told by ancient DNA
Unfortunately, fossilised remains in Wallacea are rare, and DNA from them even rarer. That’s because DNA breaks down in the heat and humidity of the tropics, and microbes don’t mind munching on it either.
Teasing apart fragments of human DNA from that of microbes, too, can be an incredibly tricky task.
So when the teenage hunter-gatherer was unearthed from the relatively cool and stable environment of a cave floor, she had the potential to provide usable DNA.
The DNA was extracted froma pyramid-shaped, dense bone attached to the inside of her skull called the petrous bone. Its name comes from the Latin petrosus, meaning “rocky”.
The petrous bone’s hardness means if DNA could be preserved, that’s where it was most likely found, says Morten Allentoft, an evolutionary biologist at Curtin University who was not involved in the study.
“It’s so dense that bacteria and fungi cannot enter,” he said.
“Water doesn’t get in, and air doesn’t get in. It is the best-preserved bone in the mammalian body.”
Samples of the bone were sent for DNA analysis at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.
Despite being encased in a buried petrous bone, Bessé”s DNA was incredibly degraded and much of it was irretrievable, said Selina Carlhoff, a PhD student at the institute and lead author of the paper.
“Percentage-wise, we recovered around 2 per cent of the complete genome from the Leang Panninge individual.”
Despite this seemingly low amount of DNA, it was enough to delve into Bessé”s genetic ancestry.
“There may be methods in the future that are able to recover even further degraded DNA, which would of course be interesting to try for this individual,” Ms Carlhoff said.
It turned out Bessé’ shared around half her genetic makeup with present-day Indigenous Australian and Papuan people.
Professor Brumm suspected a wave of migration went through Sulawesi, and some people stayed on while others kept going to eventually reach Sahul.
“Essentially, she’s a distant relative of modern-day Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians.”
But her genome revealed she also descended from an as yet unknown population that originated in Asia — a population that may still have descendants today, but could also have died out.
People who live in Sulawesi today mostly descend from Neolithic farmers who moved into the region from Taiwan about 3,500 years ago. None had ancestry resembling Bessé”s.
“It was thought the earliest influx of Asian DNA occurred during the Neolithic farming transition, when Austronesian-speaking populations swept down from modern-day Taiwan and into Indonesia,” Professor Brumm said.
“They brought with them the first understanding of how to cultivate plants, how to domesticate animals, pottery and other classic Neolithic technologies.”
The new results, he added, “suggests that there was an earlier influx of Asian genes that long predates the Austronesian expansion”.
The hunt continues
Despite the low odds of DNA preservation in places like Sulawesi, there could be more skeletons like Bessé”s, perhaps older, waiting to be found.
#AceNewsReport – June.06: When palaeobiologist Elizabeth Sibert set out to build a record of fish and shark populations over millions of years, she didn’t expect to be solving a mysterious disappearance case:
“We discovered this almost entirely by accident,” said Dr Sibert, who is based at Yale University’s Institute for Biospheric Sciences.
“This is the biggest extinction that sharks have ever seen.”
A gap in the record
It all started when Dr Sibert, along with her co-author Leah Rubin, then a student at the College of the Atlantic, decided to explore whether fish and shark populations had experienced any major changes over the past 85 million years.
They looked at microfossils in deep-sea sediment cores — collected in the North and South Pacific oceans — and compared the frequency of fish microfossils to shark microfossils.
The shark microfossils were in the form of dermal denticles — the tiny, plate-like scales that cover a shark’s skin.
Before 19 million years, the researchers found one shark fossil per five fish fossils, indicating that the ocean was once teeming with sharks.
But after that point, they counted just one shark fossil per 100 fish fossils.
After thriving for around 40 million years, shark numbers fell by a whopping 90 per cent.
Since then, global shark populations have not recovered from the die-off, said Dr Sibert, who was at Harvard University while conducting this research.
“The sharks basically just disappeared overnight.”
The researchers also analysed the shape of the denticles, which can vary significantly across shark groups.
This revealed that the number of different shark groups had dropped by around 70 per cent.
After the extinction event, the most common denticle types resembled those seen in most sharks today — smooth and linear — which may help modern sharks swim efficiently over long distances.
Geometric denticles with interlacing ridges were much rarer after the mass die-off.
Today, they’re mostly found on small, deep-sea shark species, such as the Cookiecutter shark and Lantern shark.
Cause of decline a mystery
The sudden wipe-out 19 million years ago wasn’t the first extinction for sharks, but it was more devastating than previous events.
The Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction that occurred 66 million years ago — which killed off the dinosaurs — decimated three-quarters of the world’s plant and animal species.
But the mysterious extinction event discovered by Dr Sibert and Ms Rubin resulted in a decline that was twice as severe for sharks compared to what they experienced during the Cretaceous-Paleogene event.
While scientists suspect the Cretaceous-Paleogene event was caused by a massive asteroid or comet impact, there was nothing of the sort 19 million years ago.
“We weren’t expecting this, because this period is not known for rapid extinctions or major global change,” Dr Sibert said.
It’s also unlikely that the sharks were out-competed by other marine predators — such as whales, tuna, and seabirds — as these groups didn’t appear until around 5 million years after the event.
But their sudden disappearance suggests that something major was going on during this relatively unknown period of time.
“It’s an example of the biology telling us that this is a really important interval in Earth’s history that we’ve been overlooking,” Dr Sibert said.
Lessons for the future
Sharks have been cruising the oceans for over 400 million years, making them older than the earliest trees.
They’re one of the long-term survivors in Earth’s story.
Today, more than 400 species of sharks inhabit the oceans, with 180 of these living in Australian waters.
“What we see today is a tiny fraction of the diversity that they once knew,” Dr Sibert said.
As top predators, sharks keep marine ecosystems in balance by keeping prey populations under control.
Looking at mass extinction events of the past can give us a window into the future, and how big changes in predator populations can reshape ecosystems.
“Losing 90 per cent of the abundance of a really important predator group is a huge deal to an ecosystem, and can really derail how the ocean works,” Dr Sibert said.
Catherine Boisvert, an evolutionary developmental biologist specialising in sharks at Curtin University, said that despite their looming extinction, sharks are still not a high enough priority in conservation efforts.
“If we can save the whales, we can surely save the sharks,” said Dr Boisvert, who was not involved in the study.
“And we have to, because it has enormous consequences on the ecosystem, and that diversity simply doesn’t come back.”
The next step for the researchers is to figure out what led to the massive shark die-off 19 million years ago, and why they never bounced back.
“The million-dollar question is why?” Ms Rubin said.
“We still haven’t figured that out, but the great thing about this research is that it just keeps offering us more and more questions to dive into.”