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Berlin forest Grunewald – former gravelpit area, type location for the mite Histiostoma palustre

The city of Berlin geomorphologically consists of witnesses of the Weichselian glacier. The modern city itself and adjacent federal states represented end moraine areas with fluvio-glacial debris accumulations,  even well visible today due to a very sandy soil composition and a corresponding vegetation, creating landscapes, which partly almost look like from around the Mediterranean Sea.

Sands carried by the glaciers towards their end positions remained in partly huge layers with a thickness of up to 20 meters or more.

 

Gravelpit zone and its history

 

Also the area of the old gravelpit zone, called „Sandgrube im Jagen 86“, in the Berlin forest Grunewald is located inside such an end moraine zone, which was represented by plates belonging to the geological Teltow-plateau. In the time period between 1966 and 1983, gravel was excavated for industrial purposes. After 1983 a part renaturation was supported by nature conservationists. In 1992 in total 13 hectares of the former gravelpit area were allocated as nature conservation areas.

Other parts of this unique landscape remained accessible for the public. They represent today popular places for leisure and experiences of nature. Especially the huge sand dune is a popular destination for families with children.

 

Aerial videography of the gravelpit area in January 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth. Please like my video also on Youtube, in case you like it.

 

 

Gravelpit zone and its ecology and biodiversity

 

The whole area – nature protection and accessible zones – show a complex mosaic of different  landscape types, offering numerous animal and plant species a well suitable refuge.  Neglected grasslands and dry meadows are surrounded by sandy areas free of any vegetation („dunes“) and moist osier beds and wetlands with ponds. The wetlands represent breeding grounds for numerous amphids. Lizards such as the sand lizard Lacerta agilis and snakes such as the grass snake Natrix natrix can regularly be observed. Sandy habitats offer space and specific ecological conditions for a interstitial fauna, consisting for example of different bee and sand wasp species.

In total the area bears more than 300 ferns and flowering plants, 16 breeding bird species, 7 amphibian species and 188 butterfly species.

 

My own scientific mite research in the gravelpit area

 

I was performing scientific research in that gravel pit landscape during the work on my phd-thesis between 2000 and 2005. My interest was (and one of my interests is still) focussed on specific organisms living around the shoreline of ponds.

The whole area of the gravelpit landscape is a good example for ecological changes that happen naturally with the ongoing time or even being affected by climatic changes. Between 2005 and 2018, the landscape partly changed significantly. Neglected grasslands and dry meadows covered less space originally, and instead several smaller ponds existed and offered amphibs and wetland inhabiting insects additional habitats. But some of the ponds already years ago dried out permanently. Their remnants are now covered by extended dry grasslands.

In former times of my phd thesis and even today, my research interests focus and focussed on the mite fauna in and around the muddy shorelines of ponds inside this former gravelpit area. The ponds are mostly surrounded by sapropel, a seemingly black and brownish mud, which is colored that way due to the incorporation metal sulfides. These muddy areas develop due to biochemical modifications of organic material in the absence of oxygen. Different insects, especially beetles live on top of these waterside habitats or even inside. Carabids of genera Elaphrus or Bembidion represent predators, while heterocerid beetles of genus Heterocerus are substrate feeders, presumanly with a preference for diatoms. Also water beetles of Dytiscidae and Hydrophilidae inhabit these habitats.

 

The mites Histiostoma maritimum and Histiostoma palustre

 

I discovered some of these beetles as dispersal carriers for specific mites. The dispersal strategy to take a ride on bigger animals to become carried from one habitat to another is called phoresy. Mites of the Astigmata represent typical phoretic organisms. I am scientifically specialized in a specific family of the Astigmata, which is named Histiostomatidae, and I discovered the mite species Histiostoma maritimum Oudemans, 1914 on Heterocerus fenestratus and H. fusculus as well as on Bembidion and Elaphrus species insside and on top of these muddy zones. I was the first acarologist, who ever studied the biology of this mite species. I furthermore discovered another mite species that was completely new to the scientific knowledge, and thus I scientifically described it as Histiostoma palustre („palustris“ = „muddy“) in 2002.

This species deserves particularly mention due to an unusual biological phenomenon: populations show a so called male dimorphism (better diphenism). Besides males with a „normal“ morphology, morphologically modified males appear. Their second legs differ from the typical shape of a mite and are modified into clasping organs. The function of these conspicuous organs could so far only be interpreted in the context of male to male competition conflicts for a female. In such situations, I observed the organs being used as arms against other males, against such ones with and such ones without clasping organs.

 

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Right modified leg of a male of Histiostoma palustre. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2002/ 2019

 

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Modified leg of a H. palustre male in closed position. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2002/ 2019

 

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Underside of a H. palustre male with modified leg. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2002/ 2019

 

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Asymmetry: male of H. palustre with only the right leg modified. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2002/ 2019

 

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Asymmetry: male of H. palustre with only the left leg modified. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2002/ 2019

 

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Copulation of a Histiostoma palustre male with both-sided modified legs. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2002/ 2019

 

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Details of a copulation with a modified male, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2002/2019

 

 

Berlin, January 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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Months passing, but where has all the life gone?

I am standing in Berlin. The sky is a grey monotony. And while tiny waves gently wash around the little sandy beaches, tree skeletons surround the hidden bays on the Havel river. A semi-lucid vapor is covering the branchage of leafless treetops, already early in the afternoon. It is December in Berlin. The entire spectrum of bright summer colors is overlaid by muddy shades. Only larger groups of pine trees gleam in a greenish-black out of a giant cemetery of seemingly inanimate bodies of beeches, oaks, birches and maples. The cry of a heron in a far distance, but where has all the colorful and manifold life gone?

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) wrote („Journey of the Magi“):

„A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year  For a journey, and such a long journey: the ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter…“

Shakespeare (1564-1616) on Sonnet  97:

„…What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen! What old December’s bareness everywhere!…“

Seeming emptyness of a Forest-waterside landscape in winter, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin December 2018. Please like my video also on Youtube, in case you really like it.

 

Bareness, emptyness, death, attributes being combined with winter since mankind exists. From the evolutionary point of view a serious problem that early humans  had to master. The seemingly emptyness was for them a very real lack of sources. They needed to prepare the winter time, food needed to be stored and protecting clothes to be stiched. There was no well organized international trade of goods, no fresh apples and pears in winter, no cheap winter jackets made in China. Winter meant to fear for the basic survival.

Today we live a different life, being independent from the seasons. Life today means for us to fear for the basic survival of our environment. What are the effects of a global climatic change? What the effects of our environmental pollution? What changes are independent from all that and just represent natural processess as they happened again and again since about 470 millions of years, when the first plants appeared on shore?

 

Most life does not disappear in winter, it just hibernates – alive!

 

The Berlin nature refuges around the forest Grunewald-terrain are interesting due to their complex mosaics of different habitats close to each other. Forest Grunewald in Berlin and the sandy beaches and bays along the Havel river offer space for lizards, an interstitial insect fauna, dry grassland visitors such as butterflies, wetland animals like frogs and newts, aquatic inhabitants like river lampreys, numerous bird species and inhabitants of wood in all kinds of decomposition stages such as bark beetles, longhorn beetles or hermit beetles.

 

Migration

 

Some animal inhabitants of the Grunewald/ Havel-area in summer migrate during the winter season, but most species stay. They hibernate and are even now in December still there.

 

Birds

 

Many birds show a strict migration behavior to avoid northern winters, others migrate in greater numbers, while some specimens stay, and some migrate only over smaller distances. Which of those migration behaviors is exactly performed by which bird species might depend on climatic conditions and is object of scientific research. NABU for example regularly starts projects, to which the general public can contribute with own observations. One of them takes place in early January and is named „Stunde der Wintervögel“ („the moment of winter birds“).

Common cranes Grus grus and greylag geese Anser anser normally migrate over bigger distances and numerous bigger routes towards southern winter refuges. Especially cranes are in summer for examples inhabitants of the Havelland Luch, thus prefer areas more western of Berlin. A trend was observed by ornithologists that more and more often, obviously corresponding with a global warming, troops of crane specimens stay instead of migrating southward.

Migration behavior of common cranes and greylag geese in Linum, autumn 2018, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Female of the red-backed shrike in Berlin (Köppchensee). The bird is a typical long-distance migrating animal. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

Butterflies

 

The red admiral butterfly Vanessa atalanta is known as a migrating insect. The „normal“ case is that migration from Southern Europe towards Central Europe is performed in spring. There, a summer generation develops and in autumn either tries to migrate back southward or to hibernate as adult butterfly, where it hatched, for example in Germany. But specimens mostly do not survive their tries to hibernate during our cold winters. This makes the admiral to a rare example of our summer-fauna, which over here partly indeed dies out before winter begins. The migration routes of populations throughout Europe is still topic of research. The migration behaviors seem to change corresponding to a global warming.

Admiral butterfly in Berlin, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

River lamprey

 

Also the river lamprey Lampetra fluviatilis obligatory needs migrations over bigger distances. But these migrations do not correspond primarily with our cold seasons, but instead with the complexity of its life cycle. Larvae, which differ morphologically from adults, hatch in our freshwaters and develop as filter feeders within about three years, in which they  hibernate inside their aquatic freshwater habitats. They then migrate after a morphological metamorphosis towards the Sea. There they live as ectoparasites on fishes until they reach sexual maturity and then return into freshwater-rivers to reproduce and finally die. It is still subject of research, whether they return for their reproduction to the areas of their original larval development.

 

Hibernation

 

Sand lizard

 

The sand lizard Lacerta agilis  hibernates in hideaways, which are able to hold a temperature around 5°C. There they fall into winter numbness due to their unability to regulate their body temperature independently from the environment. Juveniles and adult genders start their hibernations  at different times.

Sand lizard juvenile, found in Berlin Grunewald/ Teufelsberg, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Frogs

 

Toads and frogs hibernate after finishing their metamorphosis, juvenile and mature specimens spent a diapause as a total numbness such as in lizards. Amphibians and lizards are poikilotherm, thus their body temperature corresponds to their environment (some monitor lizards Varanus were found to have physiological abilities for a limited self regulation of their temperature, which is an exception within the taxon big Squamata).

Marsh frog Pelophylax ridibundus, pool frog Pelophylax lessonae and edible frog Pelophylax kl. esculentus survive the cold season in hideaways, which maintain acceptable environmental temperatures. While pool and edible frog hibernate on land, the marsh frog spends its diapause in aquatic habitats. Skin respiration then plays an even more imortant role, which is why these frogs require a high availability of oxygene. The edible frog is even from the evolutionary point of interest, as it represents a hybride between two closely related species, namely marsh and pool frog. It is in many of its populations non reproductive with other hybrides and needs one of the parental species to reproduce. But interestingly triploid specimens of the edible frog sometimes develop in populations and bear the complete genomic information of one of the parental species. These edible frogs can reproduce with other hybrides They can be found throughout Berlin. Such specimens are difficult to be determined morphologically, as they resemble in their outer appearance either to the marsh or the pool frog.

 

Sand wasps

 

Insects hibernate in different developmental instars, if holometabolic, egg, larva, pupa and adults are options, if hemimetabilic eggs, nymphs or adults perform the winter diapause. Some insects can even hibernate in all of their developmental instars.

The quite common red-banded sand wasp Ammophila sabulosa for example is part of the insect interstitial fauna and does not practise brood care, but maternal care. Females built up several single nests up to 20 centimeters into the soil, each of them containing only one cell for the deposition of always one egg. As food supply they hunt caterpillars preferrably of Noctuidae, stun them with a sting and carry them to their nests, which will be closed with soil particles afterwards. The last brood hibernates as pupa or larva inside the nest.

Sand wasp Ammophila sabulosa in Berlin, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

 

Grasshoppers

 

The grasshopper Sphingonotus caerulans is a thermophilic species, which is a typical inhabitant of sandy areas in Southern Europe. It also appears in Berlin. Its eggs are deposited into deeper soil layers and hibernate there.

Grasshopper Sphingonotus caerulans, male, found in Berlin (Köppchensee). Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

terrestrial Isopods

 

The common woodlouse Oniscus asellus for example hibernates as nymph or mature adult in hideaways inside deeper soil layers, dead wood or compost. These terrestrial curustaceans become inactive, when colder temperatures appear. Specimens can live over several years (usually about two years).

An example for a woodlouse, in this case a mediterranean species of genus Porcellio, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

Hibernating animal communities

 

Communities of different animal species often hibernate altogether. I focus here on inhabitants of micro habitats. Especially long living insect nests can bear greater numbers of cohabitants. But also deadwood or compost bear many different animal species side by side.

 

Ant nests

 

Nests of the red wood ant Formica rufa represent complex animal communities, as it is typical for ant nests generally. Besides ants and their brood noumerous nematode and mite species inhabit nest mounts of F. rufa. Additionally different larvae of other insect taxa can be members of the ant community, I even discovered the larvae of the green rose chafer sometimes inside red wood ant nests in the area of the Berlin forest Grunewald. Also several species of pseudoscorpions are known to science to be adapted for a survival in nests of F. rufa in Europe: commonly found are for example the species Allochernes wideri and Pselaphochernes scorpioides. Pseudoscorpion species of genus Allochernes are known to practice a dispersal strategy named phoresy. They use bigger and better motile insects as carriers and that way are transferred to new habitats. Besides ants, their suitable phoretic carriers seem to be dipterans. Also different mite and nematode taxa inside nests of the wood ant perform phoresy. A mite example is the species Histiostoma myrmicarum (Acariformes, Histiostomatidae), which seems to be carried by ants and eventually additionally also by other arthropodes.

The larva of the green rose chafer inside a nest of Formica rufa, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2011

Mite Histiostoma myrmicarum (Astigmata) collected from its hibernation habitat in the soil underneath an old oak in Berlin forest Grunewald, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

Formica rufa itself hibernates inside its nest in absence of eggs, larvae or pupae. Only the queen and workers remain during the cold season. Not much is known about other nest inhabitants. More research is needed.

Typical ant cohabitants (with Formica rufa) do not necessarily need to hibernate inside their ant nests. I collected deutonymphs of the mite Histiostoma myrmicarum in winter 2017/18 from soil (some centimeters deep) underneath an old oak in the absence of ants and their nest. The well scleotized deutonymph (phoretic dispersal juvenile stage) might represent the hibernation stage.

The advantage for organisms, living in ant nests, is a higher and constant temperature due to the ant worker’s nest-care-activities. Additionally the defensive behaviors of ants offer protection for those organisms being adapted (based on evolution) to survive inside ant nests.

Due to suitable temperatures, many organisms inside nests of the red wood ant might stay even active in winter. Interactions between ant nest-cohabitants can be very complex. An example is the Alcon large blue butterfly Phengaris alcon, being adapted to other ant species: Myrmica rudinodis and M. rubra. The caterpillar resembles an ant worker due to the morphology of its cuticle and the production of ant-similar pheromones. Ant workers fail for this imitation, carry the caterpillar into their nests and feed it. The butterfly’s larva hibernates inside the ant nest as larva, molts into pupa in the subsequent spring season and finally leaves the nest as adult butterfly. Still inside the ant nest, the caterpillar can become a victim of the parasitic wasp Ichneumon eumerus. Its female invades the ant nest, only after recognizing that caterpillars of the blue butterfly are indeed inside. It then confuses the antworkers due to the release of different chemicals and then attaches its eggs to the caterpillar. The wasp’s larva hibernates there and molts into its pupa inside the host’s pupa. The adult wasp afterwards leaves the ant nest.

Phoretic mites of the taxon Astigmata inside a nest of Myrmica rudinodis, found on island Usedom, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Bark beetle galleries

 

Numerous mite and nematode species live inside the galleries of bark beetles. Such a complex fauna is known for many bark beetle species. Additionally the larvae of different other insects can be cohabitants. Depending on the species, they can perform all kinds of life-strategies: being predators of adult bark beetles or their offspring or of other gallery cohabitants, they can also be microorganism feeders and prefer the bark beetle galleries due to its ideal warmth-isolation or due to the specific micro-climate that is created there by the activities of all different inhabitant activities. Besides animals, also fungi and bacteria contribute to that climate.

Bark beetle Hylurgops ligniperda and phoretic mites, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2016

Wood associated nematode Diplogaster sp. found in the tree fungus Laetiporus sulphureus in Berlin, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2016

Mite deutonymphs of the Histiostomatidae mites inside the galleries of the bark beetle Tomicus destruens in Italy, Vesuvio National Forest, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2016

Bark beetle Ips typographus with some of its gallery-cohabitants, such as phoretic mites, found in SW-Germany (Saarland), copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2015

 

Furthermore the composition of species in a bark beetle gallery changes with an increasing age of a gallery. Secondary infections are often performed by other wood parasiting beetles, after the bark beetle brood finished its development and left the gallery. A secondary parasitism can for example be performed by longhorned beetles.

The bark beetle Dendroctonus micans for example infests several conifer species: Picea, Abies, Larix and Pinus. This bark beetle can hibernate in all its instars: eggs, larvae or adults. Adults can in spring sometimes be found in specific hibernation-chambers. In a research project with russian collegues, I isolated beetles of that species in the early spring season in Siberia (Russia) out of such a chamber on Pinus silvestris. Adjacent to attached substrate particles, I found nymphal stages of the phoretic mite Bonomoia opuniae, a species of the Histiostomatidae (Astigmata), which was even new to science at that time. I described this species, which I so far only know from those siberian samples. It is still unknown, whether it also appears in Central Europe.

The nymphal stages (protonymphs and tritonymphs) of that mite species might represent the hibernating instars. They were not fallen into a numbness after the collection and even remained active in a refrigerator, where my samples were stored subsequently for a while. I doubt that the mite in winter can pass through different generations as it would happen in a warmer climate, because the found mite nymphs appeared -also active- still rather weak in their cold environment. Thus I assume these nymphs to hibernate throughout the winter season. But there is still much research missing about the ecology/biology of bark inhabiting mites.

Adult beetles of Dendroctonus micans with deutonymphs of Bonomoia sibirica, Tyumen/ Siberia, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2017

 

 

Berlin, December 2018. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

 

 

 

 

Phoretic Mites waiting on Ant Pupae

Greater numbers of pupae from a nest of the myrmecine ant Myrmica rudinodis are attached by phoretic mites, which wait for these pupae to hatch. They would then attach the newly developed ants to be carried around and dispersed this way. They this way had already occupied their later ants before, namely during their pupal stage, one could call this phenomen „pupa-guarding“. In my samples, I discovered two species of mites performing this pupa guarding behavior. Most abundant were deutonymphs of the mite Forcellinia wasmanni (Astigmata). But also individuals of a mite species of the Gamasina were repeatedly discovered sitting on pupae, where they were hiding between head, ventrum and limbs of the pupa. They even seemed to defend their pupae, when they felt disturbed, e.g. by my filming activities.

 

Ant pupa guarding by mitees, looking for a carrier for dispersal

 

These pupa guarding-findings concerning this ant and with these corresponding mite species might be new to science (so far I didn’t found literature indications) and thus need to be studied closer in the future in order to understand the whole context of behaviors. In the footage, two types of pupae are visible, pupae of the winged alates and those of workers. Mites generally prefered both, but especially the deutonymphs of Forcellinia wasmanni seemed to appear more often on the pupae of later workers. Most pupae had at least one deutonymph attached, rarely, there were found up to four individuals. This is different to what could be found on older workers. They on their ventral side can have 4-6 deutonymphs. Many workers seem to be covered with the deutonymphs, but I didn’t check more workers until now, so I can’t say, how many were without mites. It is unknown, how deutonymphs come to the pupae, whether they simply leave older workers for the pupa-guarding or whether they were waiting in the soil for the pupae to arrive (due to the brood caring activitoes of the ants).

Mite-Life inside an ant nest. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2015/18

 

Astigmatid mite with a strict relationship to ants

 

The mite Forcellinia wasmanni is known to be strictly associated with ants (e.g. Türk & Türk 1957). It is clear that attaching young female alates would secure the dispersial of the mite into a new ant nest. It is not clear, which function the transport via ant workers can have. But Türk & Türk (1957) mention that the free living instars of Forcellinia wasmanni would feed on dead ants. Such a kind of microhabitat for the development is not unique in astigmatid mites. Some species within the Astigmata are known to have such preferences for decaying cadavers, but are then feeding on microorganisms, which grow on these (insect) cadavers. Ant workers might be ideal to carry mite deutonymphs to new cadavers, where they would leave and develop. Ants generally have a very well developed hygienic behavior. This guarantees the mites to get access to cadavers regularly. I do not know any other video footage, showing living deutonymphs attached to their carriers on such a magnification level as visible in this film. The original footage of these deutonymphs is much longer.

 

Morphology and behavior of the dislersal-instar, the so called „deutonymph“

 

The function of the proterosoma (dorsal shield of the forebody) is acting as a flexible structure, protecting the mouthpart-area (non-functional in deutonymphs) and the fore-legs, but being very motile and being easily pushed backwards (under the following hyterosoma-shield), when the mite lifts up from the surface of the ant pupa. I cannot state much more concerning the second mite, found on pupae, which is a species of the Gamasina. I discovered this phenomenon only on three of my pupae. Ant nests represent complex communities of organisms, to which fungae, other insects, mites and nematodes can belong. The samples visible in this film were collected in July 2015 on the German island Usedom inside a forest area between the villages Zinnowitz and Karlshagen. The ant nest was quite small. An ant hill was not visible.

 

Complexity of life in ant nests

 

The complexity of life within ant nests is a result of evolution. I am an enemy of creationistic movements, including all modern faces of creationism. Creationism stimulates carelessness und illiteracy in the believing people.

 

 

Berlin August 2015/ December 2018, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Berlin Forest Grunewald and River Havel-Waterside

River Havel

 

The river Havel has its source in the Mecklenburg Lake Plateau and after 94 km flows in the area of the border between the federal states Brandenburg and Sachsen-Anhalt into the big river Elbe.

Havel runs besides the already mentioned states Brandenburg and Sachsen-Anhalt also through Berlin, the capital city of Germany. On its way, the river passes several bigger and smaller lakes, which serve as water reservoirs, even in hot summers, in which many german rivers and lakes from low water levels.

In its most parts, Havel is navigable, and weirs and locks regulate water levels and water supply.

Historically, Havel since at least 928 of our Western calculation played importent roles as natural border and water route. Through the middle ages up to times of the GDR wetlands as important ecosystems were stepwise drained. In more recent times the protection of unique nature refuges is proceeding. In 2004 for example, the Naturfreunde Deutschlands and the German Fishing Federation elected the Havel area as River Landscape of the year.

In 2005 the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and the Nature Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU began the land restoration to create refuges for rare bird species , beaver, river lamprey, otters and other animals and plants.

The footage of my video was captured close to the bathing beach area „Lieper Bucht“. Visible are the Havel islands Lindwerder and Schwanenwerder as well as edges of the forest area „Düppeler Forst“.

River Havel and Forest Grunewald in Berlin, quadcopter footage. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, December 2018. Please like my video also on youtube, in case you like it.

 

Forest Grunewald

 

Adjacent to the Lieper-Bucht area, the huge urban forest Grunewald extends over 3000 hectare between the Berlin districts Charlottenburg and Zehlendorf.

It was elected as Forest Area of the Year by the Union of German Foresters in 2015. The Grunewald ecologically has a specific mosaic of ecosystems: heathlands, neglected grasslands, dunes, dandpits and marshlands. They all bear a remarkable biodiversity of rare animal and plant species.

Geomorphologically the Grunewald area was formed by galcio-fluvial processess during the Weichselian glaciation , which endet about 11600 years ago. Glacio-fluvial sands cobver the area in layers up to 20 meters and more.

The footage of my video also shows the so called Grunewald Tower. The memorial for the German Emperor  William I was planned in 1897 and finally built up by the architect Franz Schechten. The tower was finally inaugurated in 1899 and renovated between 2007 and 2011.

The footage was captured with a DJI Mavic pro quadcopter in mid December 2018.

 

 

Berlin, December 2018. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Male and female of Histiostoma sachsi and unsuccessful mating with a „stranger“

Mites of the Acariformes vary in very different forms and life-strategies. One taxon of very tiny and soft-skinned mites is named Astigmata. Within them the familiy Histiostomatidae is especially rich of species, most of them surely not yet described or discovered.

 

Modyfied mouthparts and a specific mode of dispersal

 

These mites feed on microorganisms using a complex mouthpart-apparatus with multifunctional abilities. They can be found in habitats, which dry out quickly. When it’s getting too dry, a specific instar of the mites takes a ride on insects or other bigger arthropods for dispersal to a new and fresh habitat ( strategy called Phoresy).

Histiostoma sachsi is one of numerous (often closely related) long haired (in females) species. It was originally in 1957 described from cattle-dung. I found it in compost.

 

Long upper-setation in females and tactile camouflage (mimesis)

 

Adult females are characterized by a long setation on their uppersides. They use them to hold parts of the old nymphal cuticle and soil particles on their backs. This seems to be due to a strategy named mimesis or camouflage. It’s a tactile camouflage as an optical sense in this kind of microhabitats plays almost no role.

 

Normal and unusual copulation position, trial of an interspecific copulation

 

Males mate their females via a dorsal copulation opening and thus need to ride on them. In H. sachsi, that copulation opening is located very close to the hind-edge of the body. That way it is even despite of the camouflage cover accessible. It seems even slightly being elevated out of the body surface in order to surmount adjacent soil particles. This is an adaptation of this particular species. It might share such morphological characters only with very closely related (not yet described) species In other members of genus Histiostoma, the copulation opening is usually more centered related to the hind body.

The copulation position requires that males insert their aedeagus („penis“) into the copulation opening. They additionally use their legs to grasp into the females body. That kind of leg arrangement and thus the whole copulation position can differ from species to species.

This is why copulations between members of different species already fail, because the right copulation setting does not fit, nor does the shape of the aedeagous. Nevertheless the phenomenon of unsuccessful trials for interspecific copulations can sometimes be observed in laboratory cultures. Such a trial is also visible in this video, where a male of Histiostoma feroniarum (also appears in my compost samples regularly) tries to mate a female of H. sachsi. It cannot even almost get in a proper copulation position and seems to hold on to the dorsal camouflage cover of the female. it could only remain in a transverse position related to the female body and thus not get access to the copulation opening, normal would be a longitudinal position with the sameame orientation of female and male.

Adult mites of the family Histiostomatidae (Astigmata) and a „false“ copulation. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin December 2018. Please like my video also at Youtube, in case you like it.

 

Chemical communication and chemo-sensitive leg setation

 

Mites of the Astigmata communicate and find their general orientation due to chemo-sensitive setae, mostly on legs I and II, which are named solenidia. They are even on the magnification level of my footage well visible on the male’s legs. Although a direct body contact is not necessary for a innerspecific communication by chemically interpreting scents produced from mite glands, the observed male in my video repeatedly was seeking for intense body-contacts and obviously „observed“ his conspecific while doing so with its first two legs. This might have intensified the perception of pheromones.

It showed this behavior also, when passing by the „false copulation-pair“ described above. It additionally seemed to invest power in its leg movements as if it would try to remove the „competitor“ on the female, in this case even belonging to another species.

 

Competitive fights between males

 

That mites of the Histiostomatidae can use their strongly sclerotized first legs to fight under each other for an access to a female is known to me from my older observations about the species Histiostoma palustre and Histiostoma feroniarum.

 

Origin of the compost samples

 

The compost samples were collected in SW-Germany (Saarland in October 2018). The footage was recorded in December 2018 in Berlin.

 

Berlin December 2018, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Habitat compost: Mite Histiostoma sachsi carries old cuticle and dirt as camouflage

My parents have a compost area in their backyards. I use it as reference habitat for two mite species of the family Histiostomatidae (Astigmata): Since I began my research in 2000, the compost regularly contained Histiostoma feroniarum with its typical male dimorphism. Since summer 2017 another species appears additionally regularly: Histiostoma sachsi. Both species do not appear under the same conditions. While H. feroniarum prefers fresher decaying material, H. sachsi on visibly older decomposed tissue. There mite be even more mites of the Histiostomatidae exist in this complex compost habitat, but under my laboratory conditions, only the two named species were so far successfully reared out of samles always again. Regarding the determination of H. sachsi on a species level, I was more careful in my comments to a former video (June 17), in which I named it Histiostoma cf. sachsi due to doubts about a correct identification. Meanwhile, also due to the morphology of the deutonymph, I determine „my“ compost mite as Histiostoma sachsi Scheucher, 1957. But it is still to emphasize that Scheucher described H. sachsi from cattle dung, not from compost. But generally, both habitats can sometimes share the same inhabitants.

 

Adult females carry their old cuticles and „dirt“ on their backs as tactile comouflage

 

Biologically conspicuous is darkish material, which especially adult females carry on their backs. Unlike males, females posses elongated setae on their backsides. These setae support the holding of material such as old cuticle and soil particles. In slide preparations, this cover usually appears amorphic and contains substrate from the mite’s environment. My video footage indicates that the basis of this cover is a retained old cuticle from the former nymphal instar . That this cannot easily be proven with the light microscope is due to the very soft and fine character of the cuticles in these mites. Remnants might become decomposed by microorganisms after a while.

Compost: the habitat of the mite Histiostoma sachsi Scheucher, 1957 (Acariformes, Astigmata, Histiostomatidae). Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, please like my video also on youtube, in case you like it.

 

The phoretic dispersal instar, named deutonymph, in mites of the Astigmata controls its body position due to sticky leg endings and suckers on their undersides

 

Deutonymphs of H. sachsi represent one of my resent models to study mite-dispersal behavior. My research focus since a while concerns ultrastructure and function morphology of the deutonympal suckerplates and other structures to attach to insects for dispersal (this dispersal strategy is called phoresie). The anterior front-suckers on the suckerplate of the mite’s underside is extendable and very flexible, not only to find a suitable position on the insect carrier. When falling, the deutonymphs use it to lift their bodies up into a proper position again. Additionally they will try to get hold using „sticky“ lobe-shaped setae on the endings of legs I and II. Both is visible in my footage. The forelegs seem generally to make the first contact, when trying to get on a suitable carrier.

 

Deutonymphs of Histiostoma sachsi take a ride on other mites (Oribatida)

 

The suitable carrier of H. sachsi is unknown to me. Some astigmatid species have even a range of carrier-„hosts“. In my samples, deutonymphs at least attach to other mites, especially to mites of the Oribatida. This is in a very short scene visible in my video too.

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin December 2018

Lake Teufelssee in Berlin as part of a glacial meltwater lead

Lake Teufelssee in the Berlin urban forest Grunewald is known since ancient times, but is even much older. This is unlike the adjacent hilly landscape, which is named Teufelsberg („Devil’s Mountain““, referring to the nearby lake). It represents an area of mounds of rubble, built up with debris of the destroyed Berlin after the Second World War. Teufelssee („Devil’s Lake“) however is part of a glacial chains of lakes, a result of a supraglacial stream from the period of the Weichselian glaciation.

Air-view footage of lake Teufelssee in Berlin. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, please like my video also on youtube,in case you like it.

 

Geomorphology of Berlin, lake Teufelssee and glaciofluvial sands

 

Berlin itself represents geomorphologically a push morain from the Weichselian glacier times (until 11.600 years ago). This until today explains the uniform and scarce vegetation in and around Berlin, which is due to specifically sandy ground conditions. Sand layers with a thickness of at least 20 m date back to glaciofluvial sands, being a result of the advance of a glacial tongue.

 

Vegetation and climatic zone

 

The stock of trees in the Grunewald area is dominated by oaks and pines, being well adapted to this ground composition and the Berlin geomorphology. The climate of the Berlin area is characterized as part of the temperate climate zone in the transition between maritime and continental climate. Aspects of the continental climate are predominant, which is why snowy winters as typical for the Southern parts of Germany are rare.

Instead winters are often very cold and with low precipitation unlike the hot summers, where most rainfall occurs. The winter 2018 to 2019 is following an unusually warm summer with long periods of heat and without rainfall. As a result, water bodies Germany-wide carried less water than usually. But in which intensity lake Teufelssee was or is still concerned is unknown to me. Differences to former years are not obviously visible.

 

Berlin recreation areas and the ancient origin of the term „devil“

 

Teufelssee and Teufelsberg represent local recreation areas and offer enthusiasts and families with children a popular playground in summer, and in case the lake is frozen, also in winter.

The appearance of the German word for „devil“ in Teufelssee and Teufelsberg is assumed to refer to an ancient place of worship in this area.

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin December 2018

Tod den Naturwissenschaften – Es lebe „Inter“? Warum das individuelle Geschlechtsempfinden zwar staatlichen Schutz verdient, jedoch nicht zum biologischen Fakt erhoben werden darf

Im letzten Jahr bereits beschließt das Bundesverfassungsgericht, dass es in Deutschland als Diskriminierung anzusehen sei, wenn von Bürgern verlangt werde, sich in offiziellen Dokumenten entweder dem männlichen oder weiblichen Geschlecht zuzuordnen. Konsequenter Weise entschied der Bundestag nun, dass etwa im Zusammenhang mit Wahlunterlagen neben der Einordnung in männlich oder weiblich als dritte Möglichkeit „divers“ eingeräumt werden solle.

 

Geburten ohne eindeutige Geschlechterzugehörigkeit

 

Klingt absurd, ist aber nicht aus der Luft gegriffen, denn in der Tat ist es biologischer Fakt, dass statistisch bei etwa einer von tausend Geburten beide Geschlechtsmerkmale gleichzeitig ausgebildet sind. Aufgrund dieser äußerlich klar nachweisbaren Merkmalszusammensetzung ist der betroffene Mensch weder ein Mann noch eine Frau. Das bereits seit der Antike gut bekannte Phänomen wird umgangssprachlich daher auch etwa als „Zwitter“ oder „Hermaphrodit“ bezeichnet. Aus naturwissenschaftlicher Sicht sind jedoch beide Begriffe unzutreffend. Hermaphroditismus ist in der Pflanzen- und Tierwelt nämlich ein durchaus häufig auftretendes Phänomen. Per Definitionem wird aber vorausgesetzt, dass betroffene Individuen reproduktionsfähig sind. Dies ist bei Menschen, die mit beiderlei Geschlechtsanlagen auf die Welt kommen, hingegen nicht der Fall.

Ein echter Hermaphrodit: der Regenwurm. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Es war bislang übliches Procedere, dass Menschen mit beiden Geschlechtsanlagen im selben Körper noch im Kleinkindalter einer sogenannten geschlechtsangleichenden Operation unterzogen wurden. Dabei wird das in Folge äußerlich auszumachende Geschlecht häufig nach rein pragmatischen Überlegungen ausgewählt, nämlich gemäß der leichteren medizinischen Praktikabilität in Bezug auf den Prozess des operativen Eingriffs. Damit geschieht den Betroffenen möglicherweise Unrecht. Dass überhaupt die Entscheidung getroffen wird, Menschen ohne eindeutige Geschlechtsanlagen auf eine männliche oder weibliche Erscheinung umzuformen, wird mit psychologischen Argumenten begründet. So könne sich ein betroffenes Kind leichter in eine Welt einleben, die durch zwei klar unterscheidbare Geschlechter dominiert werde. Obwohl mir dieser Ansatz sehr plausibel erscheint, liegt eindeutig eine Diskriminierung derjenigen vor, deren Eltern sich entweder gegen die frühzeitige geschlechtsangleichende Operation entschieden haben oder die nach Erreichen der gesetzlichen Mündigkeit die Entscheidung treffen, diese wieder rückgängig machen zu lassen.

Der Entschluss des Deutschen Bundestages ist daher richtig, wird allerdings einem Phänomen gerecht, das nur selten auftritt.

 

Einfluss sozialer und psychischer Faktoren auf die Geschlechterbestimmung?

 

Erwartungsgemäß wird die Thematik jedoch politisch instrumentalisiert. Etwa vom Lesben- und Schwulenverband LSVD, dessen Vorstand, Henny Engels, zu dem Schluss kommt „, dass sich das Geschlecht nicht allein nach körperlichen Merkmalen bestimmen lässt, sondern von sozialen und psychischen Faktoren mitbestimmt wird“. Dies ist faktisch falsch und mit den Kenntnissen der modernen Naturwissenschaften nicht in Übereinstimmung zu bringen. Zwar ist es Fakt, dass es vergleichsweise häufig vorkommt, dass Menschen an sich selbst subjektiv ein anderes als ihr biologisches Geschlecht wahrnehmen, dies hat jedoch keinen Einfluss auf das faktische biologische Geschlecht. Eine biologische Frau etwa, die sich jedoch männlich oder „inter“ fühlt, bleibt faktisch zumindest dann ganz eindeutig Frau, wenn sie weiterhin empfängnis- und gebärfähig ist. Führt diese Person beispielsweise eine geschlechtsangleichende Operation zum Mann durch, handelt es sich de facto um eine Frau, die infolge eines medizinischen Eingriffs juristisch zu einem Mann geworden ist. Das Geschlecht kann aus biologischer Sicht nicht gewechselt werden. Es handelt sich lediglich um eine körperliche Angleichung, die der psychischen Wahrnehmung der betroffenen Person gerechter wird. Dass es diese Möglichkeiten gibt, ist richtig. Dass Betroffene durch Gleichstellungs- und Antidiskriminierungsgesetze geschützt werden müssen, erst recht.

menschengemischt

Verschwimmen die Geschlechtergrenzen? Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Auch ist zu strikter Biologismus zu kritisieren, zum Beispiel dann, wenn es um die Frage geht, ob es sich bei einem Menschen, der mit der körperlichen Ausstattung einer Frau geboren wurde und sich auch weiblich fühlt, jedoch aus welchen Gründen auch immer unfruchtbar ist, um eine biologisch „vollwertige“ Frau handelt. Wäre der Ansatz aus wissenschaftlicher Sicht eventuell zwar vertretbar, würde er der Lebensrealität moderner Gesellschaften allerdings nicht einmal im Ansatz gerecht werden. Allzu schnell gelangte man zu Denkweisen, die nur als unmenschlich bezeichnet werden können  und beispielsweise integraler Bestandteil des menschenverachtenden Systems des Nationalsozialismus gewesen sind.

Es ist daher allgemein grundsätzlich richtig, nicht nur im Alltag, sondern auch per Gesetz der individuellen Selbstwahrnehmung und Selbstbestimmung ein Stück weit Rechnung zu tragen. Es ist dabei allerdings äußerste Vorsicht geboten. Grenzen müssen eingehalten werden. Ließe sich die Zugehörigkeit zu einem Geschlecht künftig durch ein Individuum willkürlich festlegen, käme das dem Niedergang der Naturwissenschaften und somit dem inzwischen Jahrhunderte alten Geist der Aufklärung gleich.

 

Zukunft der Naturwissenschaften

 

Was sollte denn dann der Biologie-Lehrer seinen Schülern, was der Biologie-Professor seinen Studenten vermitteln? Dass die Geschlechterdeterminierung im Tierreich allgemein Folge naturwissenschaftlicher Gesetzmäßigkeiten sei, es sich beim Menschen jedoch um eine Glaubensangelegenheit handele? So weit dürfen wir nicht kommen! Daher ist es aus meiner Sicht bereits ein falscher Weg, dass die geplanten Reformen der großen Koalition vorsehen, dass in bestimmten Ausnahmefällen kein ärztliches Attest, sondern eine eidesstattliche Versicherung des Betroffenen ausreichen solle.

 

Das naturwissenschaftliche Verständnis der AfD

 

Das Thema erhitzt die Gemüter. Und so fühlen sich nicht nur eher linke Verbände zu kritischen Äußerungen genötigt. Auch das rechte Lager wittert umgehend ein Podium, um politisch konservatives Gedankengut zu verteidigen. So äußert die stellvertretende Fraktionsvorsitzende der AfD: „Die Geschlechtszugehörigkeit ist seit Bestehen der Menschheit ein objektives Faktum – so wie Alter und Körpergröße auch.“ Ein objektives Faktum ist vielmehr, wie sachlich unzutreffend diese Äußerung ist. Die Stellungnahme der Frau von Storch verwundert allerdings auch nicht weiter, hat sie doch bereits an anderen Stellen ihr fragwürdiges naturwissenschaftliches Verständnis vorgeführt, etwa, als sie in einem Interview forderte, es müsse erst einmal bewiesen werden, dass der Mensch Einfluss auf die zunehmende Klimaerwärmung ausübe.

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin Dezember 2018

 

 

What happens with our trees in Winter? A forest area of the naturerefuge Teufelsberg Berlin in air-view

The Berlin forest Grunewald in winter, shown from the area of the urban nature refuge Teufelsberg. The colors, brownish and grey with a little bit of green, dominate the winter landscape. This has biological reasons: Trees of a forest drop their leaves during the autumn-period. This happens in order to reduce water loss due to evaporation. Before they fall, leaves change their colors, sometimes into powerful red or yellow forms.

Why do trees drop their leaves?

 

Chemically, the plant modifies chlorophyll into colorless components. Proteins (result of photosynthesis) out of these chlorophylls are resorbed by the plant (tree) in order to save nutrients for the cold season. Carotinoids then retain inside the leaves and appear in red or yellow shades. In winter, most trees are completely leafless and remind to skeletons, waiting for the next warm period.

Leafless trees in winter at nature refuge area Teufelsberg in Berlin, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth. Please like my videos also on youtube, in case you like them.

 

The Teufelsberg area in Berlin, a nature and  sports refuge

 

The Teufelsberg represents the second biggest mountain inside Berlin/Germany. It consists of rubble from the Second World War and extends about 80 m out of the plain around. It is named after a lake, which is located very nearby: the Teufelssee. The Teufelsberg is part of the „Grunewald“, an urban forest in the west of Berlin. Since 1950 the area was filled up with rubble from the city of Berlin, which was almost completely bombed down during the second World War.

Until 1972 about a third of all rubble from bombed buildings in Berlin were transported to the top of this mountain. After 1970 finally, the Teufelsberg was formed into a nature and free time area. Skiing and mountainbiking for example were enabled.

Kites, US-listening-station and drone footage

 

Today, also during the summer, people use the winds on the top of the mountain to fly kites. Since the late 1950s during the Cold War a listening station was built close to the Teufelsberg, which still exists as a ruin. The footage was captured with a drone (Dji Mavic Pro).

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin December 2018.

Western lowland gorilla: locomotion, eating and facial expressions

We humans are nothing else than a species of great Apes and thus belong to the clade of the primates. Gorillas and chimpanzees represent our closest recent relatives.

 

Relationship to Homo sapiens

 

In earlier times, it was even stated that the two chimpanzee species and the two gorilla species altogether were the sister-clade of the Homo sapiens. This is not the standard of knowledge any more. Due to molecular evidence and other characters, it could be reconstructed that chimpanzees alone represent the sistergroup of modern humans. Gorillas are sister-taxon of the clade consisting of cimpanzees and Homo sapiens.

 

Knuckle-walking

 

The consequence of this systematic scenario is interesting, as the conspicuous mode of locomotion that can be found in gorillas and chimpanzees, the so called knucklewalking, might have also existed in very „primitive“ and extinct human species.

 

Two gorilla species

 

Another newer finding is that the four subspecies of gorillas (western lowland gorilla, Cross River gorilla, eastern lowland gorilla and mountain gorilla) represent two species, the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) and the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei). Visible in my film footage are specimens of the western gorilla, more exactly western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) from the Zoologischer Garten Berlin.

 

Preferred habitats

 

Gorillas live preferably on the ground, but are also good tree climbers. An exception is the mountain gorilla, which seems to avoid tree climbing. Gorillas even do not avoid water, but only access  water bodies, in which they can stand.

 

Social structure

 

The social structure of gorilla groups can be simplyfied as consisting of one dominant male (silverback), his females and subadult specimens. In case several adult males remain in a group, only the dominant silverback is reproductive. The normal case is that adult males leave their groups, remain for a while alone and try to find access to a new group. Interestingly, in gorillas also females leave their groups after adolescence . As a result, females of a group are usually not closer related with each other.

 

Diet

 

Gorillas represent the biggest great apes, but usually are vegetarians, preferring fruits, seeds and leaves as food. To gain enough nutrients, they need to invest a major time of their daily activities with eating. It is still unknown, which role carnivorous food plays for these apes. Some were observed during „termite fishing“. It might be that insects and smaller vertebrate might enrich their diet. In order to grasp smaller food particles, gorillas possess a quite well developed hand motor-skills, as visible in my footage.

Western lowland gorilla filmed in Berlin Zoologischer Garten, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Please like my videos also on youtube, in case you like them.

 

Facial expressions

 

As all gorillas, also the western lowland gorilla is characterized by very well developed facial expression abilities. it’s a character, which they share with chimpanzees and humans due to a common evolutionary event in the early ancestor line of the great apes. A differentiated facial expression, comparable with the one of humans, requires a suitable innervation, skull muscle origins and specific numbers and shapes of facial muscles.

 

Culture and the use of selfmade tools

 

It was earlier thought that cultural abilities and the use of selfmade tools would be unique for humans. The modern primatology could proof that this is not true. Both characters evolved obviously in the ancestor line of the great apes. Especially chimpanzees and gorillas are known for using tools, for example in order to perform termite-fishing. The transfer of a specific knowledge or abilities via teaching to the offspring is named culture. Also gorillas are able to do so.

 

Berlin, July/November 2018, Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth