Archive for December, 2022

All Modern Wolves (Canis lupus) Descend from a Population that Originated in Beringia

December 29, 2022

All wolves in the northern hemisphere descend from a population originating in Beringia, according to a recent study of wolf DNA. Beringia is the geographic region including western Alaska, eastern Siberia, and formerly the Bering land bridge when it was above sea level during Ice Ages. Scientists examined the DNA from 90 “modern” wolf specimens (those dating to less than 500 years old and 40 “ancient” wolf specimens (those dating to more than 500 years old). They concluded the population of wolves living in Beringia 50,000 years ago eventually expanded across Eurasia and North America and displaced the populations of wolves that were already living there. Ice sheets blocked expansion into North America until about 15,000 years ago. There is not enough data to know for sure how similar Beringian wolves were to North America wolves living below the Ice Sheet before the expansion.

Graph showing expansion of the Beringian wolf population across the Northern Hemisphere during the Late Pleistocene. From the below referenced paper.

Late Pleistocene wolves were larger and had teeth, skulls, and jaws that were more robust than modern gray wolves, though they were not as robust as those of the extinct dire wolves (C. dirus) formerly found throughout most of North America. Dire wolves were not at all closely related to gray wolves and were separated by at least 1 million years of evolutionary divergence. Late Pleistocene wolves were well adapted to scavenging and/or hunting mammoths, horses, and bison. The population of wolves from Beringia may have specialized in hunting caribou and perhaps followed caribou herds over long distances. Maybe this explains how they became so widespread. The other wolves, so well adapted to hunting megafauna, didn’t survive megafauna extinctions, but Beringian wolves following caribou herds did.

The results of this recent study contradict an older study that concluded modern gray wolves didn’t descend from the more robust Beringian wolves. The authors of the newer paper explain their study had a greater sample size and looked at more of the wolf DNA than the older study did. It certainly eliminates the mystery of where modern Alaskan wolves originated. They’ve had a continuous presence in the region for a very long time.

Reference:

Loog, Lisa, et. al.

“Ancient DNA Suggests Modern Wolves Track their Origin to a Late Pleistocene Expansion from Beringia”

Molecular Ecology Jan 2020

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/mec.15329

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Mammoth Populations Decreased While Horse Populations Increased in Europe during the Late Pleistocene

December 22, 2022

Anatomically modern humans hunted mammoths in Europe over 34,000 years ago. There is plenty of archaeological evidence for this, but the evidence gets scarcer after this date. A recent study places the blame for this decline in mammoth populations on humans. Scientists analyzed the chemical isotope ratios in the bones of mammoths, horse, red deer, caribou, and wolf from a time period dating between 34,000 years BP-23,000 years BP. They determined the environment favorable to mammoths remained intact during the time period, yet mammoth populations declined significantly. Climatic changes were minimal. Therefore, the only explanation for this decline in mammoth populations was overhunting by humans. People likely decimated populations by focusing on the juvenile individuals. This might also explain the scarcity of the scimitar-toothed cat in the fossil record after this date in Europe. The scimitar-toothed cat specialized in hunting juvenile mammoths, and their decline coincided with the decline of their prey.

A scientific study determined mammoth populations in Western Europe declined beginning about 34,000 years ago. Scientists believe overhunting by humans “decimated mammoth populations.” Horse populations increased during this time period because more food became available for them when there were fewer mammoths. The environment remained stable during this time period.

This study found a great overlap in the diets of mammoths and horses. More food was available for horses following the decline of mammoth populations, and horse populations increased during this time period. Eventually though, humans overhunted horses too. The bones used from this study were from Germany and France, and it was an extensive study with a large sample size. It shows how humans impacted landscapes even before we were common.

Reference:

Drucker, D.; et. al.

“Tracking Possible Decline of Woolly Mammoth during the Gravettian in Dordogne (France) and the Ach Valley (Germany) Using Multi-Isotope Tracking (13 C, 14 C, 15 N, 34 S, 18 O)”

Quaternary International Mar 2016

Pockets of Prairies in Eastern North America

December 15, 2022

The notion a squirrel could have traveled through treetops from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi River when Europeans first discovered North America is a myth. Extensive grasslands existed throughout eastern North America then. Many factors contributed to their origin. Indians annually set fire to the woods to improve habitat for the deer, bear, and turkeys they ate. Normally, this created an open woodland environment because many species of trees can survive light grass fires. But in some areas, fires can consume much of the tree cover, creating open grassland. Indians also removed trees when they planted corn fields. Abandoned corn fields became prairie-like for at least 10 years before reverting to forest. Natural lightning ignited fires, tornados, and hurricanes also destroyed forests, creating pockets of prairie within eastern forests. In some locations soil conditions that favor grass over trees resulted in grasslands predominating instead of trees.

Hempstead Prairie on Long Island, New York is an example of a prairie pocket within the eastern forest. It originally was 50 square miles in extent and hosted grassland species of birds such as upland sandpiper, prairie chickens, and eastern meadowlark. This was tall grass prairie with 5-foot-tall grasses and a great variety of flowering plants. It was still mostly intact until about 1969, but suburban development during the 1970s destroyed most of it. Today, just 19 protected acres remain. Homeowners are encouraged to plant native species of plants in their yards, but it will never be the same.

Hempstead Prairie on Long Island, New York. Until suburban development during the 1970s, this prairie was 50 square miles. Now, 19 protected acres are all that is left. Photo from the below linked article.

Every region in mostly forested eastern North America had pockets of prairies within the wooded landscape. Below is a map made by surveyors of an area in Arkansas during the early 1800s. Most of the landscape at this time consisted of oak and pine forest and bottomland swampy forests, but there were 5 major prairies and 9 smaller ones in this area. The larger prairies were even given names. Most of eastern North America was forest like this pock-marked with prairies.

Map of prairie pockets within a forested region in pre-settlement Arkansas. Map from the below referenced Midland Naturalist article.

2 species of birds require extensive stretches of grasslands with no trees–upland sandpipers (Bartamia longicauda) and prairie chickens (Tympanuchus cupido). These birds were formerly abundant in eastern North America. Now, upland sandpipers are rare in the east and prairie chickens have been extirpated in the region. I hypothesize some populations of eastern prairie chickens, most notably the heath hen, were unique species. Because these species are so habitat-specific, they can be used as index species in the subfossil record for the presence of grasslands. The remains of both species, dating to the late Pleistocene, have been found in Kingston Saltpeter Cave and Yarbrough Cave in Georgia, and Bell Cave in Alabama. Most of the bird species remains found at these fossil sites are woodland, wetland, or generalist species, but the presence of upland sandpiper and prairie chicken remains is evidence there were pockets of prairies in north Georgia and north Alabama about 13,000 years ago.

Remains of upland sandpipers found at fossil sites can be used as index fossils denoting the nearby presence of prairies during the time of deposition.
Prairie chicken fossil or sub-fossil remains can also be used as index fossils that suggest the presence of nearby prairies during the time of deposition.

References:

Bragg, Don. C.

“Natural Pre-settlement Features of the Ashley County, Arkansas Area”

American Midland Naturalist 2003

Marinelli, Janet

“Amid the Sprawl, A Long Island Prairie Makes a Quiet Comeback”

Yale Environmental 360 December 2022

https://e360.yale.edu/features/hempstead-plains-long-island-wildlife-conservation-gardens?fbclid=IwAR1bV3MQJg6SS0O5wGnE6i432bHuXllCAEiKY8ohHvgb1IUwaTUG-SmjCmQ

Most Modern Varieties of Oranges are Disappointing in Flavor

December 8, 2022

I have a hard time finding oranges, particularly tangerines, that have any flavor. Tangerines, also known as Mandarin oranges, used to have delicious flavor and aroma, but modern farmers developed seedless varieties that are easy to peel and eat and have a long shelf life. They taste so bland; I regret purchasing them every time. “Little Cuties,” small seedless Mandarin oranges, are heavily marketed and found in all grocery stores, but they are usually a tasteless disappointment. Other modern Mandarin orange varieties are just as bland. My favorite variety of orange is the Temple orange. They are full of seeds but taste good. I haven’t been able to find them in several years. Not being able to get a good orange is just another annoyance I suppose I’ll have to learn to accept. Modern grapefruit varieties are an improvement, however. I remember when grapefruits needed added sugar, but it is not necessary to add sugar to the grapefruit varieties available today.

All citrus species originated in the Himalayan foothills during the late Miocene about 8 million years ago. They were first cultivated in China at least 1700 years ago and soon spread to India. Scientists aren’t sure how many species of citrus exist because men have been interbreeding them for so long. The Moors brought sour oranges (Citrus aurantium) to Spain and North Africa during the 8th century. Sweet oranges weren’t introduced to Europe until the 15th century. The Spanish brought oranges to Florida, and William Bartram saw large groves of wild oranges growing all over the territory by 1776. The Spanish also brought oranges to California. Today, the orange is the most widely grown fruit in the world. Leading producers of oranges include in order Brazil, China, India, the U.S., Mexico, and Spain.

All species of Citrus originated in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Genomic chart showing origin of Citrus fruits. From the below reference.
Genomic chart showing breeding of Citrus fruits by human horticulturalists. Scientists don’t know how many species of Citrus there are because humans have interbred them so frequently. Also from the below reference.

Scientists recently mapped the genome of citrus fruits. The modern sweet orange is a hybrid between pummelo (C. maximus) hybrids and mandarin oranges (C. reticulata). Pummelos can be found in grocery stores and are similar to grapefruits but have thicker skins and more pith. Grapefruits are a back crossing of mandarin hybrids with pummelos. Mandarin oranges have been back crossed with pummelos several times. Lemons are a hybrid between sour oranges and citrons.

Reference:

Guohong, Albert; et. al.

“Genomics of the Origin and Evolution of Citrus”

Nature 554 Feb 2018

My Taxpayer Dollars Pay the Salaries of the Sadistic Assholes who Killed My Favorite Cat

December 1, 2022

Richmond County Animal Control took my Stripey away from me. She was my favorite cat, and we enjoyed a 4-year bond. She was a smart, loving cat and in the prime of her life when she was captured and shortly thereafter given a lethal injection before I could rescue her. She first adopted me when she was about 3 months old on days when I punched my punching bag in the shack behind my house. She would shyly come to me and let herself be petted while I was wearing boxing gloves. But when I took the boxing gloves off, she would run away from me. Gradually, she let herself be petted with my bare hands. When she was about a year old, she disappeared for 2 weeks, and I thought I would never see her again. One day, I went for a walk and found her trapped inside a vacant house where homeless people occasionally spend the night. I broke the door down, and she sprinted toward water. It was late spring and quite hot. Apparently, she survived 2 weeks trapped in a hot house without food or water. A day later, she was carrying her first litter from that house to our yard. She eventually had 5 litters, and I gave her the nickname Stripey, the Slut. She lost her first 2 litters, probably through inexperience (I don’t know what happened to them). Two kittens survived from her 3rd litter to be subadults, but both were run over by cars. One kitten from her 4th litter is still with me; another was swept up in the Animal Control raid. I think someone from my neighborhood adopted most of the kittens from her most recent litter.

This was my Stripey helping me wash the dishes. I miss the little nuisance. I was determined to try and rescue her from animal control because of the way she used to look into my eyes with love. No human ever looks at me like that. Richmond Animal Control didn’t give me a fair chance to get her. They were closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and they counted those holidays as business days. I am so upset.

Stripey always ran inside the house whenever she had the chance. To entice her outside, I would open the door and put food on the step. It was like a game for us. Sometimes, she just didn’t want to leave the house and would explore it, mostly looking for something to eat. She would eat food under the table where my wife sits (she’s disabled and drops lots of food). She would peek inside the trash, and she would jump on the sink and lick the dirty dishes clean.

Her final disappearance was at first a mystery. She disappeared on the Saturday before Thanksgiving along with 4 other cats that my neighbors and I were feeding. They were all breeding age females. I first feared my neighbors had something to do with it. One complained there were too many cats which there were. But then, he would turn around and feed them himself. I dismissed this idea because I couldn’t imagine them being cruel to animals. On Monday I took an edible marijuana product at midnight, and I was too high to fall asleep. I heard a coyote howling in my front yard. Maybe, a coyote got them. But this didn’t make sense either. How could a coyote catch 5 cats in less than a day? The cats run fast and climb trees. I also considered the possibility animal control picked them up. But I thought they had to set traps out to catch cats, and I didn’t see any traps. How could they trap that many cats in such a short period of time? Nevertheless, I called animal control to ask if they had caught any cats in my neighborhood. I discovered they never answer their phones. If I would have just gone in person, Stripey would still be alive today, but I wrongly underestimated their proficiency at catching cats.

My neighbor solved the mystery on Thanksgiving. He told me Animal Control came on Saturday, and he gave them permission to come on his property because he thought I called them. He was as surprised as I was that they caught so many cats so rapidly, and he was missing them. Richmond County Animal Control gives pet owners 5 business days to rescue their animals. I felt determined to save my cat and went to the pet jail the next day. The pet jail is located in a rural part of the county near the people jail. Unfortunately, Richmond County Animal Control was closed on Black Friday, a holiday dreamed up by the retail business, so people will spend money on shit they do not need. I waited outside the locked gate until an employee exited. He told me Thanksgiving and Black Friday counted as business days, but he assured me my cat would be alright. This gave me the false hope she would still be alive on Monday. I felt stressed all weekend, and a salty discharge kept leaking from my eyes as if I was a menopausal woman. I kept imagining how happy Stripey would be to see me after being trapped in a cold cage for 9 days.

Alas, it was not to be. We went again on Monday when they were finally open, but we were too late. The pet concentration camp smelled like shit, and the man in front of me in line was furious because Richmond County Animal Control would do nothing about the dangerous dog haunting an elementary bus stop in his neighborhood. I was directed to a lady in charge of the cats. She was friendly and helpful, and we would’ve been able to take our cat home without any of the rabies vaccination red tape I had unnecessarily worried about. She took us to the room with the captured cats. Most of them looked like pampered fat house cats…not stray or feral cats. I saw 1 cat that resembled Stripey, but it wasn’t her. The cages were spacious, clean, and well-supplied with food and water; but the cats were very vocal and stressed. I asked the lady how they killed my cat, and she told me it was a lethal injection–quick and painless. How would she know? Has she ever felt what it was like to have a lethal injection? If only I had come a week earlier. If only I had detained the cat inside the house that past Saturday.

I still have 4 cats to cherish. Stripey, the Next Generation is just like her mother. She first approached me when I was punching my punching bag and only let me pet her at first when I wore the boxing gloves. Now, she is a little nuisance just like her mother, but she doesn’t run inside the house yet. In addition there is a mellow orange tom cat, and a developmentally delayed cat.

The cat in the foreground is a developmentally delayed runt. I call him roly-poly. He’s from the same litter as the cat behind him.
I call this mellow cat, The Whistler…because he whistles.
This is Stripey’s daughter. She behaves just like Stripey did when she was younger, and I call her Stripey, the Next Generation. She is shyer and must have hidden in the woods when Animal Control captured the other cats. That’s where she came from the next day when I went outside to feed the cats. I miss the challenge of having an older, more experienced cat, however.

Richmond County Animal Control will NEVER have permission to come on my property. I have a poor opinion of them. Years ago, I called about a dangerous dog roaming the neighborhood, and they never sent anybody. The man in front of me in line when I went there was enraged because they would do nothing about a dangerous dog in his neighborhood. Yet, they come into people’s yards and kill their harmless cats. I’m also aggravated with whoever reported us. Maybe it was the police. They are probably supposed to report certain situations to animal control. Or maybe it was just some busybody in our neighborhood who doesn’t like cats. I could live with it, if Stripey had been run over by a car or killed by a coyote, but the thought she was deceived by humans, who I contribute tax money too, makes me sick to my stomach.