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Kategorie: Naturwissenschaft

Drone flights: Worth seeing nature around the fields of Berlin

The metropolis Berlin is the capital of Germany and much more than that. It represents an unusual green city. When using elevated viewpoints to watch the cityshape, then at least in summer visitors of Berlin can receive the impression of being in the midst of a greening huge landscapes with several villages in between.

 

Green areas in Berlin

 

 

Indeed related to other metropolitan cities of the world, Berlin is still partly not very densely populated and covered by remarkable huge natural countryside instead. The area of landing and runway strips of the former airport Tempelhof for example up to date represents the largest coherent green area inside a city worldwide. The so called Tempelhofer Feld was after the termination of the air traffic exposed to renaturation and is currently a very popular recreational park. It’s located in the South of the city.

Also the West and South-West partly represent nature reserve areas and are covered by the big urban forest Grunewald.

 

Meadows and wetlands in the North of Berlin as nature refuges

 

I am since two years discovering the Northern parts of Berlin, which according to my random observations (in comparison with other Berlin areas, such as Tempehofer Feld, Teufelsberg (Grunewald) and some urban parks in the center of the city; examples of species will be visible on my corresponding blog article) bears the greatest biodiversity in bloom visiting insects.

 

 

 

Mosaic of different landscape types close to each other

 

 

 

 

 

This is seemingly due to the complexity of different meadow-, field-, wetland- and bog-habitats, being originally shaped by the Weichselian-glaciers. I regularly visited the stream valley of the so called Tegeler Fließ with the lake Köppchensee. It’s a hilly area with different gradients of sunny slopes with partly Mediterranean climatic conditions, surrounded by different kinds of wetlands. This area is well known for its great biodiversity.

 

Between the villages Rosenthal, Lübars and Blankenfelde

 

But my drone flights present vast tracts in the South of that stream valley, consisting of fields, green meadows and wetlands. It is the area between the Berlin villages Rosenthal, Lübars and Blankenfelde. Inner urban agriculture is rare in metropolian cities worldwide, in Berlin there is only a small agriculture area in the South (Dahlem Dorf) and the fields between the named villages in the North.

 

Drone flights and bloom visiting insects

 

 

Fields and meadows with adjacent forests and wetlands in the North of Berlin, September 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth. Please give my video also your like on Youtube.

 

Most part of the footage in my film represents the fields adjacent to the village Rosenthal. I newly discovered the partly quite tiny meadows between and adjacent to agricultural fields around Rosenthal this summer and discovered an impressive and steadily visible diversity of bloom visiting insects there. Fields as monoculture habitats usually bear a smaller biodiversity related to wild-growing nature zones. But due to the connection of the edges of fields with complex nature refuge zones around, I could observe a quite great number of species on closely adjacent meadows and even the natural border zones of these agricultural areas.

 

Videographic details

 

The footage was captured in 4K and D-cinelike quality using a Mavic 2 Zoom drone between September and October 2019.

 

 

Berlin, September/ October 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Different wing colors in a harlequin ladybeetle specimen

The ladybeetle Harmonia axyridis is naturally distributed over eastern Asia, but was imported to the United States already at the beginning of the 20th century as pest control. At first, there was no population development in the open fields. These were at first reported from Louisiana in 1988. In 2001 the first free living specimens were for Europe discovered in Belgium. Since then the beetle distributed over several European countries, such as France, entire Germany or Switzerland.

 

Variations of Harmonia axyridis

 

The beetle is well known for its great form variations. Worldwide more than 200 different color pattern forms of thorax and elytrae are described. They are distinctly shaped and maintain in this shape and arrangement of pattern. But four forms dominate within natural populations. Speaking about the elytrae (not the thorax patterns), the reddish form with dark spots, as visible in my film, is one of them.

These distinct different forms must be named a polymorphism and are based on genetic information as well as on environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity and light intensitivity. According to that even the term polyphenism might be adequate.

 

 

 

 

Transcription factor pannier responsible for color pattern polymorphism

 

According to the work of M. Gautier et al. (the genomic basis of color pattern polymorphism  in the harlequin ladybird, Current biology, 28, 20), the transcription factor pannier is responsible for the genetically based control of this polymorphism. They discovered that different pannier alleles determine the color pattern in the different known forms. The authors furthermore report that pannier was never found before to play a keyfactor role in the pigmentation of insects.

 

Ladybeetle species on a meadow in Berlin

 

The specimen in my footage was discovered on an urban meadow in the park area „Nordhafen“ in Berlin. It’s a meadow in autumn predominantly consisting of lucerne and clover, sorrel and yellow field cress. Different ladybeetle species could be in greater numbers found there between September and October 2019. The sevenspot-ladybird, the adonis ladybird (Hippodamia variegata) and most abundant the harlquin ladybird in all its developmental stages.

 

Asymmetrical wing colors and possible explications

 

 

Harlequin beetle specimen from Berlin with asymmetrically colored wings, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, please like my video also on Youtube

 

The most conspicuous character of „my“ harlequin ladybird specimen was its distinct asymmetrically colored wings (elytrae). One side reddish with black spots, the other side brownish with black spots. During my research about such asymmetries in ladybirds, I didn’t find recent studies, which distinctly focussed on that topic. H. E. Roy et al. reported in their book „ladybirds“ (original version 1989, revised version 2013) about the existance of such differently colored wings in the same specimen. They emphasized that the phenominon was not studied in detail, but assumed different factors being eventually responsible for such a development of a beetle individual: 1) disruption of pigment production, 2) mitotic mutation in early development, 3) environmental conditions, eventually influencing the colors of an originally normal developed young adult (exposed for longer time to different light intensities etc.). The latter might in the case of „my“ specimen being an indeed possible factor, as it is clearly visible that also the brownish wing has at its edges some of the reddish pigments.

 

 

Filming/ photography conditions

 

The beetles was filmed and photographed under artificial conditions in a soil and grass-set in my video lab. There, mites of the Gamasina (Parasitiformes, evtl. mostly Laelapidae) were common. They interestingly showed a phoretic behavior by quickly climbing onto the wings of that ladybeetle. They obviously recognized it as a suitable carrier to new habitats. I assume ladybeetles in the field not being of much attraction for phoretic dispersal, based on their life-cycles and preferred habitats.

 

Berlin, September/ October 2019, Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Diving, feather cleaning and water bathing of the Inca tern Larosterna inca


Inca terns live along the South American Pacific coast and breed along rocky coastlines of Peru and North Chile. They can be easily identified by their grey plumages, their distinctly red beaks and feeds as well by their conspicious white feather curls on the bases of their beaks.

 

Geographic distribution and life-strategy aspects of Larosterna inca

 

Larosterna inca breeds inside rocky walls of coastlines either inside rocky cavities or in old nesting holes of other seabird species. Its hunting ground is the  Humboldt Current, which is famous for its cold temperature, but also its enormous fish wealth. To increase its chances for fishing success, the Inca tern might follow sea lions, cormorants and whales  and is then hunting fishes, which were flushed up by these bigger sea animals. They also follow fisher boats to catch some rests of their fishery.

 

Phylogenetic (systematic) relationships

 

According to phylogenetic reconstructions L. inca, which represents the only recent species of its genus, branches off in the Animalia tree within the monophyletic clade of terns. Based on DNA sequences E. S. Bridge, A. W. Jones and A. J. Baker reconstructed in their 2005 paper (Molecular phylogenetics and evolution) a sister-clade relationship between Larosterna and species of the taxa Sterna, Thalasseus and Chlidonias (mitochondrial DNA was used to reconstruct the tern phylogeny).

Terns themselves seem representing an own clade (Sternidae), being for example based on characters of behavioral pattern, and are considered as a sister taxon of gulls (Laridae).

 

Filming conditions and filming locality

 

My footage was recorded in the Zoo Berlin, where terns together with other sea birds inhabit a for tourists accessible free-flight enclosure. There I captured scenes about the diving and „fishing“ behavior (specimens fished repeatedly wooden sticks) as well as their plumage cleaning activities on shore and their conspicuous plumage cleaning behaviors via extended bathing trips inside areas of low water. Size of my entire video is 4K. But parts of the scenes were originally recorded in Full HD to enable a better slow motion effect based on 100 frames per second. Such footage was subsequently digitally magnified into the 4K size to fit in the entire video project.

All behavioral activities are at first presented in a slow motion (ca. three to four times slowlier than  original speed), then in the much faster original speed.

 

Plumage cleaning

 

Plumage cleaning is part of the hygienic behaviors of birds. Feathers can only stay in full function, thermoregulation and flying, when dirt and parasites are removed regularly. Typical plumage parasites are represented by feather mites (no phylogenetic clade), which consist of taxa of the Astigmata (Acariformes) and of taxa of the Dermanyssoidea (Parasitiformes). Feather lice represent  a subclade of the (Phthiraptera = lice), named Mallophaga. The monophyletic situation of Mallophaga is seemingly doubtful.

 

Plumage cleaning and hunting behavior of Larosterna inca, video (4K9, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth. Please like my video on youtube too.

 

Putative reasons for plumage cleaning behaviors

 

I couldn’t research sufficient information about specific plumage parasites of Larosterna inca. There is indication that terns generally are relatively free of predators and parasites. Seemingly, plumage parasites of this particular species are still a more or less open research field. But the existence of a regular and visibly careful plumage cleaning might indicate a sensitiveness for corresponding parasites. L. inca can be according to literature (e.g. W. Pieters et al., Avian Diseases, 2014) fatally infested with the trematode Ichthyocotylurus erraticus.

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Zoo Berlin July/ September 2019

Mite Histiostoma sp., putatively new species, from mud around ponds (Berlin) and its morphology

Gravel pit area „Im Jagen 86“ in Berlin as biotope

 

„Im Jagen 86“ is a former gravel pit area in the Berlin urban forest Grunewald. It today represents a dynamic biotope, consisting of different types of habitats: mud around ponds, sand dunes, dry grassland and forest. Since the early 2000th, its habitat composition partly changed remarkably. Out of several (smaller) ponds, only one bigger pond remained. All ponds originally were surrounded by sapropel, a habitat for different interesting organisms, such as beetles of Heterocerus, Elaphrus and Bembidion. The mite Histiostoma maritimum was commonly found phoreticaly on Heterocerus and Elaphrus. I additionally in those early 2000th described the new mite Histiostoma palustre from Hydrophilidae of Cercyon and Coelostoma, living inside the saporopel as well. Today only a few small areas with open sapropel exist. I so far did not look for Histiostoma maritimum again and don’t know, how common it still is. At least Heterocerus beetles are harder to find than in earlier years. I so far did not found Histiostoma palustre again.

 

Rearing conditions of a putatively new mite species

 

I collected new mud samples in March 2019 at different areas, but found developing histiostomatid mites in a sample from the edge between mud (sapropel) and mosses. It is a species I never found before there and which might represent a new species. Only females could be morphologically studied. Nymyphal stages (not deutonymphs) are only available as video footage. No males were found. I had added bigger potato pieces to stimulate microorganism growth as mite food into the soil sample (room temperature). After about one month, a few mites (females and proto/tritonymphs) developed on only one of these potato pieces and quickly died out shortly after my filming activities and after I could prepare a few females. I actually try to get them reared again. Due to the low temperatures in March, it is considered that these mites hibernate independently from insects in the substrate. No bigger insects could be found in the substrate, which might be the corresponding carriers. But different dipterans (e.g. Ceratopogonidae) developed, they had no mite deutonymphs after hatching in my sample.

 

 

 

 

Morphological reconstruction of females and important characters as well as behavioral observations

 

The females of Histiostoma sp. differ from other females, which I know, by the mosaic of the following characters: body conspicuously elongated with a distinctly big distance between hind ringorgans and anus, digitus fixus almost simple shaped, fringes or ridges on palparmembrane, 6 dorsal humps, unusually big copulation opening. Leg setation not yet studied. One pair of ventral setae hardly visible (not in the drawing). Nymphs were observed during burrowing activities (footage), females are may be also able to. Deutonymphs or males would be useful to decide, whether the species is new. Some species are only described by deutonymphs.

 

Berlin, March/ June 2019 All copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Oribatida mites: Fast runners and slow crawlers

Microhabitats often consist of a complexity of organism species. Under suitable conditions, samples can be kept „alive“ for months and even for years by regularly adding moisture and organic tissue, in case of my sample of this footage: patato pieces.

 

 

Mites of the Oribatida and their different ways of locomotion. Copyrights: Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin April 2019. Please give the video a like on youtube too.

 

Soil samples from island Norderney

 

This soil sample was collected in summer 2018 on the North Sea island Usedom during my participation at the „Geo Tag der Natur“. It contained several specimens of the predatory chilopode Lithobius sp. and pieces of rotting wood, moss and forestground, everything collected under rotting treetrunks and tree branches. The samples additionally contained the carabid beetle Pterosticus cf. niger and ants of genus Lasius. Samples were collected in a small forest area with wetland aspects. The soil quality was rather moist.

 

Astigmatid mites

 

I later added potato pieces and regularly some water droplets to the sample with still living big arthropods/ insects. After some weeks, specimens of the astigmatid mite Acodyledon cf. schmitzi developed on dryer areas of the potato pieces. These mites were presumably phoretic associates of the carabid beetles. They died out after several months, after the sample had dried out a little bit and may be due to changes of the room temperature during winter time.

 

Oribatida

 

Now, almost a year later, the micro habitat is inhabited by mites of the Oribatida in greater numbers of specimens of at least three species: Nothrus sp. (genus not yet clarified), Nothrus palustris (already found for the first time shortly after the sample collection) and a species of Phthiracarida.

 

Locomotion and biodiversity

 

Purpose of the short film is to show different organisms, cultured after about a year in this sample: mites, nematodes, collembolans and microorganisms, fungae and bacteria. Of the bigger arthropods/insects, only one Lithobius species survived until now.  Also the diversity of ways of locomotion in different oribatid species is emphasized: There are slow crawlers (Nothrus) and fast runners (Phthiracarida).

 

Berlin, April 2019, Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Agriculture, natural countryside and stream pasture landscape north of Berlin

Berlin as a green city

 

 

Berlin, lake Köppchensee, March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Berlin is an unusually green metropolis. Besides numerous urban park landscapes and the huge forest area Grunewald, there is a unique countryside north of Berlin, including the area of the old village Lübars, being surrounded by numerous fields (Lübarser Felder) and a stream pasture landscape, named Tegeler Fließ, with bog meadows.

 

 

Nature sites Lübarser Felder, Arkenberge, Schönerlinder Teiche in 4K, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth. Please also like my video on Youtube.

 

Mounts Arkenberge and pondlandscape Schönerlinder Teiche

 

In the northeast, around the urban village Blankenfelde, the currently highest elevation of Berlin can be found, the Arkenberge. Originally, they represented a chain of smaller mounts as natural remnants of the Weichselian glacier. One of these mounts is especially conspicuous and is acually prepared to become accessible for people and forms with a height of 122 m over NHN the highest mountain of Berlin. It represents despite of its natural origin a rubble landfill site, which was formed beginning in 1984.
Adjacent to the Arkenberge, several wetland areas attract nature enthusiasts for hiking tours: the pond landscape „Schönerlinder Teiche“ (Brandenburg) and the lake Kiessee Arkenberge.

 

Mount Arkenberge with Kiessee Arkenberge, Berlin March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Mount Arkenberge, Berlin February/ March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Eurasian blue tit at Schönerlinder Teiche (Wandlitz), February/ March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Ponds Schönerlinder Teiche (Wandlitz, Brandenburg), February/ March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Lowland area of the stream Tegeler Fließ as remnants of the Weichselian glacier and adjacent calcareous tufa area

 

The stream Tegeler Fließ is a wetland nature site with a high biodiversity of plants and animals. It is surrounded by different types of bog meadows. The Tegeler Fließ lowland is also a result of the last glacier period.

The stream lowland is additionally adjacent to a calcareous tufa area, which is well visible from top of the Arkenberge. Calcareous springs and calcareous tufas created here calcareous rush- marshes with an interesting biodiversity of for example species of mosses and snails.

 

Lake Köppchensee as part of the Tegeler Fließ lowland, March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Video footage and photos

 

The footage was captured from localities around the village Lübars in the area of Lübarser Felder and additionally around Arkenberge. Some above mentioned nature sites are only visible in a distance.

 

Berlin, March 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Late winter insect life: winter aconite blossoms and dipteran visitors

When do the first insect activities in the new year occur? Can insects be active in winter, even in the presence of snow? The answer is generally yes, different insect species even use to appear on warmer winter days on top of snow layers. Examples are the limoniid crane fly Chionea belgica, a wingless dipteran, which can be observed on milder winter days on snow surfaces along forest edges in Central Europe. Also the fly Trichocera hiemalis belongs to the winter crane flies (Trichoceridae) and can be characterized by a very well developed cold resistance. It appears on sunny winter days between branches of leafless trees in swarms around invading sunlight beams.

 

The winter aconite as an early blooming flower and its biology

 

But what about insects, visiting blooming flowers? This requires the existance of early blossoms, which can grow and bloom under winter conditions. A well known example is the winter aconite Eranthis hyemalis, which outlasts the summer period only by its underground tubers. Their conspicuous yellow blossoms belong to the first blooming flowers in the year. In Central Europe, they begin to grow under suitable conditions in mid February. They require milder temperatures, but even persist in case an unusual cold snap would happen. The blossoms open only at sunshine and thus close shortly after sunset. Opening and closing is a growth process, which depends on temperature conditions. Such a phenomenon is called thermonasty.

 

The winter aconite as a neophyte in Germany

 

In Central Europe, such as in Germany, E. hyemalis is a neophyte. It is originally native to Southern European areas, Turkey, South-East-France, Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary.

The species was introduced to Central Europe (and North America) as ornamental plant for gardens. It is proven that it was in Germany already cultivated since the 16th century. The German botanist, nature researcher and medical doctor Joachim Camerarius reared the winter agonite, which he brought from Italy, since 1588 in his backyards.

 

Common pollinating insects

 

Pollinating insects of E. hyemalis are flies, bumblebees and bees. To reach the nectar inside the blossoms requires a proboscis length of about two mm, which is mostly given in bumblebees and bees.

 

Flowerbed in Berlin urban park Schillerpark

 

I documented via my videography (4K) and photography a smaller area of winter aconites in front of a wall at urban park „Schillerpark“ (honoring the German poet Friedrich Schiller) in Berlin. The bright bricks of that wall reflected efficiently the solar warmth and thus created suitable conditions for a late winter flowerbed full of life.

 

Video with winter aconite blossoms and pollunating flies, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Most abundant insects in that winter aconite bed

 

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Western honey bee, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

The western honey bee Apis mellifera was often seen on blossoms, but unfortunately was not captured via video footage. Our honey bee hibernates in a so called winter clusters with lower temperatures and low activities in workers. Beginning in late winter/ early spring, workers increase the nest temperature due to body movements up to 35°C. This is exactly the body temperature, workers need to fly out and collect first nectar and pollen, for example from the winter agonite.

 

Drone fly on blossom of the winter aconite, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

The drone fly Eristalis tenax belongs to the hoverflies (Syrphidae). Their larvae develop in watery environments, where they use their conspicuous snorkel tube to breath air at the water surface. Adults are typical blossom visitors, preferring Asteraceae and Apiaceae. Interesting highlight of their biology is the migratory behavior. These migratory insects form swarms, which cross the Alpes towards Southern European areas by using suitable wind conditions, where they finally hibernate and reproduce. The next generation returns the same way back. Not all individuals participate these migratory flights and would try to hibernate in Central Europe. Hibernating individuals are always females, which were fertilized prior to their winter diapause or their migration and which lay their eggs in the subsequent spring or in southern regions during winter. In Germany they only survive in greater numbers in milder winters, which they persist in temperature-stable hideways, such as gaps inside walls or wooden habitats. These specimen can be usually observed early in the year, beginning with March, when visiting blooming flowers. Their numerous very early appearance in mid February 2019 might be due to a very warm summer 2018 and a subsequent very mild winter in north-eastern Germany (Berlin). I have no comparative findings regarding the usual blooming time of the winter aconite and the abundance of drone flies there for Berlin or even this specific urban park. I also don’t know about indications that due to a global warming, as in some migratory birds, less specimens of the fly would migrate and more stay to hibernate here around.

The research station „Randecker Maar“ in the Swabian Jura records changes in migratory flights of birds and insects. They discovered a distinct decline of numbers of migrating drone flies and interpret it as a result of the increasing application of poisonous substances in the agricultural sector. Whether they additionally consider this being due to more individuals hibernating, where they are, based on generally warmer temperatures (global warming) is unknown to me.

 

Blow fly on blossom of the winter aconite, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

The blow fly Calliphora vicina is a common blossom visitor in early spring and autumn. This fly, typically appearing in human settlements in Europe and the New World, is well adapted for an activity at lower temperatures (more than 13°C). While larvae develop in decomposing organic tissue (such as cadavers of animals), adults feed on nectar and pollen. They additionally incorprate saps from organic material with a strong odor.

C. vicina produces about five generation per year and throughout the year. The flies can even be active in winter, when temperatures reach a suitable level.

 

Other fly species were existant, but I did not determine them.

 

Time of footage and photo recording

 

Video footage and photos were recorded between 16 and 18 February 2019 in the urban park Schillerpark in Berlin.

 

Copyrights: Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2019.

Mite Histiostoma sachsi (Astigmata): Juvenile dispersal instar deutonymph and its orientation behavior

Some animals live in environments, where there is (almost) no light available. It makes no sense to see in the dark, but it is important for a specimen to know, where it actually is, where it is going to, whether there is enough food and what the conspecifics are doing. Predators need to be recognized in time, and a sexual partner must be found. There is also need for an efficient communication between specimens of a species. How can all this be performed by mites of the Astigmata, which usually live inside decomposing soil habitats in a more or less permanent darkness?

 

Olfactory sense organs in mites of the Histiostomatidae

 

Histiostoma sachsi (Histiostomatidae, Astigmata) is such a mite, living inside cow dung or compost. It might have a rudimentary ability for a light perception, but has not visible or functional eyes. It cannot produce any sounds. It can only feel and smell. Seemingly very limited abilities, but the contrary is fact: Due to evolution this mite is perfectly adapted to its life-style. It can feel objects by touching on them using its body setation (= body hairs). And it smells by means of very specialized body hairs, which are called solenidia and appear in different types, shapes and functions. These mites don’t smell on the level of us humans, which would be very insufficient. If at all, it should be compared with a dog. I am always fascinated when seeing blind dogs and how perfectly they can interact with their environment, despite their handicap. That’s may be how the efficiency of olfactory perception abilities of such a mite must be imagined. They do not only perceive scent particles from other animals, plants and soil components. Even olfactory signals from their conspecifics will be correctly and differentiatedly interpreted. And that not only marginally.  Olfactory signals represent indeed the major mode of their intraspecific communication.

 

Chemical communication of mites of the Histiostomatidae

 

Communication always requires contributions from both sides, a signal and an answer. These mites smell the signal of a conspecific using their solenidia, and they answer by the secretion of biochemical components. For these purposes, they possess a huge and complex gland system located on the upperside of their backs. Volatile excretions aggregate inside a big and rounded reservoir and finally leak to the outside via a pore, called oilgland opening. These gland systems are located symmetrically on both sides, each with one reservoir and one pore.

The meaning of the sent volatile message simply depends on the composition of the correspondingbiochemical components. Even diffferent stereochemical configurations of the same molecule can have different meanings. Citral for instance is a major component and has in different stereoisomers different functions. Such cummunicative volatile signals are usually named pheromones. And mites of the Histiostomatidae can indeed produce different kinds of pheromnes via the same gland system. Aggregation pheromones inform specimens about a suitable place to stay together with their conspecifics, for example due to a sufficient amount of food resources. Alarm pheromones solicit mites nearby to flee from an unpleasant situation. Sexual pheromones attract adult partners to each other in order to perform the mating procedure. But the gland secretions can even more. As allomones, they communicate with specimens of other species. They function as defenses against predators or other dangerous cohabitants.

 

Deutonymphs need to find a carrier for dispersal

 

Another form of communicative interspecific interactions is performed by a specific juvenile instar, the deutonymph. It looks morphologically quite different from all other instars (heteromorphic situation), does not need or possess a functional mouth, has a thicker cuticle as protection against drying out and a complex sucker organ on its underside in order to attach itself to an insect or another bigger arthropod. Deutonymphs of the astigmatid mites search for bigger carrier-arthropods to get carried from one habitat to another (dispersal strategy  is calledphoresy). While doing so, they again use their specifically modified leg setation (hairs) on the first pairs of legs to perceive scents for the detection of a suitable and passing by carrier. Basically it is still unknown, whether the term „communication“ is indeed appropriate in this context as we don’t know yet about a mutual interaction between deutonymphs and their carriers, before the phoretic ride begins.

 

 

Olfactory orientation of the deutonymph of Histiostoma sachsi, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, February 2019.

 

Specific way of walking in deutonymphs

 

In detail, different kinds of behaviors can be observed in deutonymphs, when searching a carrier. The detailed behavioral patterns in this context can slightly differ between even closer related species. Deutonymphs of Histiostoma sachsi as all deutonymphs show a characteristic mode of walking, in which especially the first pair of legs plays an important role. During each step, performed by four pairs of legs, the first legs are lifted up much higher than all other hind legs. While doing so, they slightly tremble up and down. A behavior that mostly supports a better basic orientation inside a „jungle-„micro-landscape, being filled up with soil particles and decomposing plant tissues. But what H. sachsi deutonymphs additionally need in order to find their carriers is repeatedly to rest between the walking activities. Thus the first legs, which normally are still walking legs, are made free and that way available for the perception of carrier-scent-components only. These  namely are the legs that bear the highest densiy of solenidia.

 

Two different behavioral modes for an efficient orientation towards a carrier

 

Two different modes of resting with olfactory searching activities could be observed: In periodic intervals the deutonymph attached to the ground by using its sucking structures. They were then more or less laying on their entire undersides with only their forebodies slightly lifted up. By alternating moving the first legs up and down, olfactory information could be perceived from all directions without having the own body as a barrier to backwards. To improve its orientation situation, the deutonymph additionally turned on its own axis around, being stabilized by its sucking structures, which are flexible enough to follow these movements. When the deutonymph intended to continue its walk, it first needed to detach from the ground, which happened via muscle contractions that caused an abrupt detachment of the corresponding suckers. But main aim of the deutonymph is to find an elevated place, where the probability of a passing by carrier is especially high and from where a bigger insect (or other arthropod) can easier be ascended. There the second behavioral mode was performed. The deutonymph only fixed the edge of its hind body to the ground, again using the suckers on its underside, which are located close to this edge. This time the entire mite body stood in an upright position. The first legs again „waved“ alternating up and down and could under these especially elevated conditions even perceive scents from bigger distances. By occasionally slightly and alternating turning their upright bodies to both sides, olfactory information could be easier detected from all directions.

 

Carrier of H. sachsi still unknown

 

The frequency of such movements in mites increases typically as closer a suitable carrier approaches. But this was not yet observed or documented for Histiostoma sachsi. Its carrier inside the compost substrate is still unknown, which is why I so far could’t perform corresponding experiments. The species‘ describer, Scheucher (1957), found her mite specimens in cow dung and also didn’t identify the corresponding carriers there.

The observations presented in my video are part of my research project about morphologies and behaviors of deutonymphs in the Histiostomatidae.

 

Berlin, February 2019. All copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Arapaima gigas, einer der größten Süßwasserfische – doch was sind Fische eigentlich?

Sie sind beeindruckende Fische, nicht nur aufgrund ihrer Größe. Und doch kennen die meisten Menschen sie nur aus den Aquarienhäusern zoologischer Gärten. Arapaima gigas wird mindestens zwei Meter lang und erreicht in Ausnahmefällen sogar Längen von über drei Metern. Beheimatet ist die Art im Bereich des Amazonas-Beckens und ist in Peru, Brasilien und Guyana verbreitet.

 

Arapaima gigas, einer der größten bekannten Süßwasserfische aus dem Amazonas-Gebiet

 

Arapaima ist ein Räuber. Erwachsene Fische ernähren sich von anderen Fischen sowie Tieren in vergleichbarer Größe, wie zum Beispiel auch kleineren Säugern. Besonders auffällig sind die kräftig gestalteten großen Schuppen, die den Körper der Tiere umschließen. Sie dienen unter anderem als mechanischer Schutz gegen Angriffe durch Feinde. So können sie beispielsweise den Attacken der im selben Lebensraum beheimateten Piranhas, die zwar wesentlich kleiner sind, aber bekanntlich empfindliche Beißwerkzeuge besitzen, wirkungsvoll widerstehen. Das schützt Arapaima freilich nicht vor seinem größten Feind, dem Menschen. Er ist ein beliebter Speisefisch, der durch massenhafte Bejagung in seinem Bestand immer wieder gefährdet wird.

Arapaima gigas wird häufig als größter Süßwasserfisch der Welt bezeichnet. Dies basiert jedoch auf Übertreibungen. In Wahrheit befindet er sich in der Größenordnung des Europäischen Welses, dem größten europäischen Süßwasserfisch.

 

„Fische“ ist keine spezielle systematische Gruppierung

 

Ich verwendete bislang stets unkommentiert den Begriff „Fisch“. Was sind Fische eigentlich?Welche sogenannte Fische kennt man noch? Wie verhält es sich beispielsweise mit dem Bullenhai, der über drei Meter lang werden kann und neben marinen Habitaten auch im Süßwasser auftreten kann. Kann er als Gigant des Süßwassers mit dem Arapaima, dem Gigant aus dem Amazonas verglichen werden? Nach evolutionsbiologisch-systematischen (=phylogenetisch) Gesichtspunkten kann er das nicht. Der Begriff „Fisch“ bezeichnet nämlich keine spezielle, systematisch in sich geschlossene Gruppe. Stattdessen haben wir es mit einem deskriptiven Begriff zu tun, der alle Tiere umfasst, die in ihrer Gestalt ganz grundsätzlich eine gewisse Ähnlichkeit mit dem Goldfisch aufweisen.

Wenn wir außer Acht lassen, dass auch „Tintenfische“ und „Walfische“ nach demselben Muster benannt wurden, die bekanntlich zu den Mollusken und Säugetieren gehören, weist die Fischgestalt zumindest in den meisten Fällen auf eine irgendwie gestaltete Verwandtschaft hin. Jedoch sind Haie und Arapaima dennoch nicht sonderlich nahe miteinander verwandt.

 

Arapaima gigas im Aquarium des Zoos Berlin, ein gigantischer Süßwasserfisch, der regelmäßig atmosphärische Luft an der Wasseroberfläche aufnehmen muss. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Bei den „Fischen“ handelt es sich nämlich um eine sogenannte paraphyletische Gruppe. Das heißt, sie umschließt zwar eine ihnen allen gemeinsame Stammart, jedoch keineswegs alle dazu gehörigen Tochtergruppen. Dazu würden nämlich auch alle Landwirbeltiere gehören. Eine vergleichbare paraphyletische Gruppe stellen beispielsweise die „Reptilien“ dar, zu denen Eidechsen/Schlangen, Schildkröten, Krokodile und alle Dinosaurier gehören. Da die Vögel aus den Dinosauriern hervorgingen, jedoch nicht zu den „Reptilien“ gezählt werden, haben wir es unter dieser Bezeichnung wieder mit einer Stammart und nur einem Teil aller Tochtergruppen zu tun, die allerdings im Stammbaum der Tiere nebeneinander stehen und daher näher miteinander verwandt sind, so wie auch bei den „Fischen“.

Im Falle der „Fische“ (paraphyletische Gruppen werden häufig in Anführungszeichen gesetzt) verhält es sich so, dass die verschiedenen als Fische bezeichneten Gruppen neben nur ihnen eigenen Merkmalen auch unterschiedliche Merkmale aufweisen, die auf eine Ahnenlinie hin zu den Wirbeltieren zurückgeführt werden müssen. Was unterscheidet also Knorpelfische (zum Beispiel Haie) und Strahlenflosser (Actinopterygii = echte Fische) voneinander? Eine Frage, die so in der modernen Systematik, die stets nach Gemeinsamkeiten sucht, eigentlich nicht gestellt wird. Richtiger ist es, zu fragen: Welche Merkmale teilen die Knorpelfische mit den Landwirbeltieren (z. B. knöcherner Schädel, Kiefer) und welche die Strahlenflosser (z.B. Lunge). Wenn man dennoch über Unterschiede sprechen möchte, ist festzustellen, dass Knorpelfische noch keine Lunge, die mit jener der Landwirbeltiere homolog ist, besitzen, Strahlenflosser aber schon. Die Lunge ist also auf der Ahnenlinie der Knorpelfische hin zu den Strahlenflossern evolviert. Anders als die „Fische“ sind die Strahlenflosser, die ich hier auch als echte Fische bezeichne, sehr wohl eine geschlossene systematische Einheit (=Monophylum), die auf Merkmale einer gemeinsamen Stammart zurückgeführt werden kann, die nur dieser Gruppe eigen sind. Ein Beispiel ist die namengebende Gestalt der Flossen, die durch Flossenstrahlen durchsetzt sind.

 

Zuerst gab es Lungen, aus denen Schwimmblasen evolvierten

 

Die Strahlenflosser (Actinopterygii), zu denen neben unzähligen Arten auch Arapaima gehört, besitzen also in der Tat ursprünglich paarige Lungen als Respirationsorgane. Diese sind demzufolge nicht erst vor dem Abzweig der Lungenfische entstanden, die als nächste Verwandte der Landwirbeltiere gelten. Die dortige Neuerung betrifft, anders als der Name Lungenfisch vermuten lässt, die Evolution eines Lungenkreislaufs, den es bei urtümlichen „Fischen“ mit Lunge noch nicht gegeben hat.

Aber besitzen echte Fische (Actinopteryii) nicht Schwimmblasen und atmen ausschließlich durch Kiemen? Mitnichten. Ursprüngliche Vertreter der echten Fische werden beispielsweise durch die Flösselhechte (Polypteriformes) representiert, die paarige sackförmige Lungen besitzen und neben der Kiemenatmung daher auch atmosphärische Luft veratmen können. Diese beeindruckenden Tiere können sich mithilfe ihrer Flossen nicht nur an Land fortbewegen, sondern lassen sich (es gibt Experimente an Senegal-Flösselhechten) auch unter vorwiegend terrestrischen Bedingungen in Terrarien halten.

Erst innerhalb der echten Fische ist die Schwimmblase entstanden, die sich durch Evolution aus den Lungen heraus bildete. Die fachgerechte Beschreibung lautet daher: Lunge und Schwimmblase sind einander homologe Organe. Innerhalb der Actinopterygii gibt es einen evolutiven Trend, demzufolge die Schwimmblase bei urtümlicheren Vertretern (noch) der Atmung dient, bei evolutiv weiter abgeleiteten Vertretern hingegen nur noch die Funktion der Austarierung im Wasser übernimmt.

Allerdings ist es innerhalb der echten Fische oftmals schwierig zu entschlüsseln und noch immer Gegenstand phylogenetischer Studien, ob die Lungenfunktion einer Schwimmblase einen Hinweis auf Urtümlichkeit darstellt, oder ob sekundär aus einer Schwimmblase mit Tarierfunktion erneut ein Atmungsorgan entstanden ist. In der Evolutionsbiologie werden im Übrigen unabhängige Entwicklungsschritte stets als Konvergenzen bezeichnet.

 

Arapaima gigas veratmet mithilfe seiner Schwimmblase atmosphärische Luft

 

Auch Arapaima gigas ist ein Luftatmer, der auf den Einsatz seines zusätzlichen Atmungsorgans in Form einer Schwimmblase sogar angewiesen ist. Er ist ein obligater Schwimmblasenatmer, der atmosphärische Luft an der Wasseroberfläche mithilfe seiner Mundöffnung aufnehmen muss. Dies wird als Anpassung an den häufig sauerstoffarmen Lebensraum der Tiere interpretiert, die sich häufig in Überflutungszonen des Amazonasbeckens aufhalten, wo wenig im Wasser gelöster Sauerstoff zur Verfügung steht. Der Literatur zufolge muss Arapaima gigas alle fünf bis fünfzehn Minuten die Wasseroberfläche aufsuchen, um dort mit seinem oberständigen Maul Luft einzuschnappen.

 

Berlin, Februar 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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