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Biodiversity: Two generations of botanists end titanic task: Describing the 6,120 plants of Spain and Portugal | Science & Tech

Voice Of EU



A plant of the grass family native to the Americas that was introduced in parts of Spain, Muhlenbergia schreberi, is the very last entry in a vast botanical inventory that was 39 years in the making and required the efforts of two generations of experts.

The description of this particular species was the final touch on the comprehensive catalog’s 25th volume, which went to print this past summer. The project, known as Proyecto Flora ibérica, has been hailed by specialists as the greatest milestone in the classification of the region’s biodiversity since the days of the illustrious 19th-century botanist Heinrich Moritz Willkomm, who led plant-collecting expeditions in Spain and Portugal.

The first volume of Flora ibérica was published in 1986. Almost four decades later, the plant encyclopedia lists 6,120 species, of which 22% are endemic, meaning they do not grow in any other part of the world. This figure represents around half of all the plants in Europe, underscoring how the relevance of the project extends well beyond Spain and Portugal’s borders.

Yet so far, there have been no public celebrations, no presentations, not even an official announcement. Carlos Aedo, a researcher at Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden and coordinator of the final phase of the project, said that to 21st-century Spanish science, the impact of classifying species is “irrelevant.”

The researcher Carlos Aedo inside his office at Madrid's Royal Botanical Garden.
The researcher Carlos Aedo inside his office at Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden.Jaime Villanueva

The titanic task required input from no fewer than 255 authors from 72 institutions in 14 countries, including 27 Spanish and seven Portuguese universities. “Making this possible required two generations of botanists,” said Aedo, who joined the enterprise as an intern at age 30 and ended up as its coordinator.

The project lists all the vascular plants (those with water-carrying tissues such as roots, leaves and stems, as opposed to non-vascular plants like mosses) in the Iberian peninsula. The inventory extends to mainland Spain and Portugal, the microstate of Andorra and Spain’s Balearic Islands. It did not take islands in the Atlantic Ocean – including Spain’s Canaries and Portugal’s Madeira – into account because of their completely different biodiversity.

The plant species ‘Phyllodoce caerulea,’ is extremely rare. There were doubts about whether it was located in the Spanish part of the Iberian peninsula, but it was later found in Arán valley in Lleida.
The plant species ‘Phyllodoce caerulea,’ is extremely rare. There were doubts about whether it was located in the Spanish part of the Iberian peninsula, but it was later found in Arán valley in Lleida.

The number of endemic species in the Iberian peninsula is much higher than in other parts of Europe. “In Germany, you can count them on the fingers of your hands,” noted Aedo. “Iberian flora is very rich, as it is across the Mediterranean. In terms of diversity it is similar to Greece and Italy, and a bit below Turkey.” Aedo explained that glacial periods in northern Europe killed off a lot of plant life there when the ground was covered with ice.

Fewer than 100 specimens of this curious plant, 'Solenanthus revechonii,' are known to exist on Earth, and all of them are located in the mountains of Cazorla, in southern Spain. They have been protected from herbivores by a system of fences.
Fewer than 100 specimens of this curious plant, ‘Solenanthus revechonii,’ are known to exist on Earth, and all of them are located in the mountains of Cazorla, in southern Spain. They have been protected from herbivores by a system of fences. C. A.

With the advent of the digital era, work became easier. At first, researchers would mail one another photocopies; each author’s work had to be physically sent to a scientific editor who in turn ran it by a team of 50 advisors before having a secretary do a final proofread. These days, the volumes are available online on the digital library of Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden.

Another challenge was deciding on the proper name of each plant, considering that the same word is colloquially used for many different species depending on the region. The word aulaga, for instance, is used across Spain to mean 25 different species.

Too big for one lifetime

In Spain, 'Muscari parviflorum' can only be found on the coast of Málaga and on the island of Mallorca.
In Spain, ‘Muscari parviflorum’ can only be found on the coast of Málaga and on the island of Mallorca. C. A.

The driving force behind an initiative that began in 1982 was the biologist Santiago Castroviejo, former director of Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden, who died in 2009 at the age of 63 without seeing his project completed. Of the two other main figures behind Flora ibérica, Pedro Montserrat passed away in 2017 as he was about to turn 99. Only the Portuguese botanist Jorge Paiva, who at age 88 continues to send in corrections, has lived to see the 25 volumes in print.

The reason for drawing up an inventory of all the plants on the Iberian peninsula was the fact that, until now, Spain was one of the very few European countries lacking such a list. In fact, in 1982 the main reference book for Spanish plant scholars was still Prodromus Florae Hispanicae, written in Latin in the 1800s by the German botanist Willkomm and his Danish counterpart Johan Martin Christian Lange.

“Although the heyday for Spanish botanists was the 18th century, at that time they were focusing more on the plants of the Americas,” said Aedo. “Later there was an attempt by [Mariano] Lagasca in the early 19th century, but he was forced into exile in London because of his political activity as a liberal, and another project by [Pius] Font i Quer in the 20th century, after the [Spanish] Civil War, did not come to pass either.”

Finding new species

This gem, 'Naufraga balearica', grows on the cliffs in the north of the island of Mallorca. If it is finally confirmed as extinct in Corsica, it will mean that this is the last refuge of the species.
This gem, ‘Naufraga balearica’, grows on the cliffs in the north of the island of Mallorca. If it is finally confirmed as extinct in Corsica, it will mean that this is the last refuge of the species.UICN/SSC/MPSG

Despite the staggering figures, the register is not final: the plant world is in a constant state of flux and new species are emerging even as others become extinct. There were even times when botanists found plants that did not match any existing records. This was the case with an asparagus plant from the southeastern Spanish region of Murcia, which was named Asparagus macrorrhizus, and grows exclusively in the few surviving sandbanks between the buildings of La Manga and San Javier near the Mar Menor, a saltwater lagoon that has made world headlines because of its life-killing pollution levels. During their endeavor, scientists have discovered other new species such as Gadoria falukei, which only grows in rocky terrain in the mountains of Gador (Almería), or Primula subpyrenaica, discovered in the Pyrenees.

What is not known cannot be protected, hence the importance of these types of tallies. The effort will help with land management, but also support research by scientists and scholars. Yet participants complain their work is not being valued. “This doesn’t happen everywhere. In the US, when a researcher who has spent 10 years collecting plants in Bolivia returns, he gets named head of the herbarium at the Missouri Botanical Garden,” said Aedo. “Any scientist wishing to survive in Spain needs to obsessively publish articles in high-impact magazines, while other structural projects are considered irrelevant. It’s the end of an era.”

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Systematic American Mistakes Are Making Russia Great Again

Voice Of EU



Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.

He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.

He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.

He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.

His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.

If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.

After a year and a half of silence accompanied by much media noise, from the Mueller investigation into Trump the Terrible’s collusion with the Russians (and their lord and master the Dread Pirate Putin) in order to steal the election from innocent young Hillary “twinkle-toes” Clinton, Mueller finally laid an egg. He indicted 13 Russians for identity theft  and wire fraud.

He alleges that they bought some stolen personal info  (Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, etc.) on the internet,  used these to set up PayPal and Facebook accounts, and then used these  to buy Facebook ads in an effort to undermine the American people’s  faith in the wholesome goodness of their democracy.

There is no evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign or administration knew that this was happening. There is no evidence that any of the 13 Russians had anything to do with Putin or the Russian government. There is no evidence that anything they did had any measurable effect on the outcome of the election.

There is, however, ample evidence that this indictment will go nowhere.

There is a difference between being indicted and being convicted: a convicted person is proven guilty; an indicted person is protected by  the presumption of innocence until convicted. To be convicted in a  criminal trial, a person has to be physically present before the court  because one has the right to face one’s accusers. A trial held in  absentia is automatically a kangaroo court. The 13 Russians are Russian  nationals residing in Russia. According to the Russian constitution,  Russian citizens cannot be extradited to stand trial in a foreign court,  and it seems exceedingly unlikely that they will face criminal charges  in Russia based on Mueller’s indictment. Therefore, these 13 Russians  have to be presumed innocent under US law—forever—even if they get to spend time in a Russian jail, convicted under Russian law.

It’s still possible that one of these Russians will at some point travel  abroad, get snatched and shipped off to the US to stand trial, and be  convicted of money laundering, identity theft and wire fraud. But the  charge of working to undermine the American people’s faith in the  wholesome goodness of their democracy would be rather hard to prove,  mostly because there isn’t much of it to be found these days. The  accusation is a lot like accusing somebody of despoiling an outhouse by  crapping in it, along with everyone else, but the outhouse in question  had a sign on its door that read “No Russians!” and the 13 Russians just  ignored it and crapped in it anyway.

The reason the Outhouse of American Democracy is posted “No Russians!”  is because Russia is the enemy. There aren’t any compelling reasons why  it should be the enemy, and treating it as such is incredibly foolish  and dangerous, but that’s beside the point. Painting Russia as the enemy  serves a psychological need rather than a rational one: Americans  desperately need some entity onto which they can project their own  faults. The US is progressing toward a fascist police state; therefore,  Russia is said to be a horrible dictatorship run by Putin. The US  traditionally meddles in elections around the world, including Russia;  therefore, the Russians are said to meddle in US elections. The US is  the most aggressive country on the planet, occupying and bombing dozens  of countries; therefore, the Russians are accused of “aggression.” And  so on…

If (for whatever stupid reason) Russia is indeed America’s enemy, it  stands to reason that the Americans would want to make it weaker rather  than stronger. Working to strengthen one’s enemy seems like a poor  strategy. And yet that is what has been happening: the last two US  administrations—Obama’s and Trump’s—both have been steadfastly aiding  and abetting Russia’s rise to greatness. Aiding and abetting the enemy  is bad enough by itself, but it would also appear that they have been  doing so unwittingly. Thus, if Mueller really had the health and beauty  of American democracy in his heart, he would have indicted both the  Obama and the Trump administrations for aiding and abetting the enemy  through gross negligence. Here is how the indictment would read:

1. The Obama administration falsely accused the government of Syria of  carrying out an attack using chemical weapons near Damascus on August  21, 2013 in order to find an excuse to attack and invade Syria. Chemical  weapons were in fact used in that incident, but not by the forces  controlled by the Syrian government. Since the Syrian government had no  interest in either using chemical weapons or in maintaining its chemical  weapons stockpile, this gave Russia an opening to negotiate an  international deal under which Syria surrendered its entire stockpile of  chemical weapons, which were destroyed, and international inspectors  subsequently certified Syria as being free of them. This incident showed  Russia to be a trustworthy partner, able to peacefully resolve crises  through negotiation, raising its stature in the world, and the US to be a  rogue state willing to use any means, including the use of chemical  weapons against civilians, in order to justify its illegal use of force.  Following in Obama’s footsteps, the Trump administration, soon after  assuming office, used similar unverified accusations of a Syrian  chemical weapons attack to ineffectually bomb a Syrian airbase using  Tomahawk missiles.

2. In February 2014 the Obama administration organized and carried out a  bloody coup in Kiev, staging a massacre using foreign mercenaries,  falsely accusing the Ukraine’s constitutional government of carrying it  out, overthrowing it, and installing a puppet regime managed by the CIA  and the US State Department. The nature of this regime, which is  comprised of oligarchs and criminals allied with neo-Nazi groups, and  which has elevated to the status of national heroes certain perpetrators  of genocide against Jews, Poles and others during World War II, has  been kept hidden from the public in the US. But because Russia and the  Ukraine are not ethnically, linguistically, culturally or religiously  distinct, and have existed as a single entity through most of their  history, most Russians understood what had happened. The chaos and  mayhem that followed the putsch gave the Russian government an opening  to hold a referendum in Crimea, which was briefly joined to the Ukraine,  but which had been part of Russia since 1783, and to re-annex the  territory. It also led to armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine and the  formation of two de facto independent republics there, making the  Ukraine into a semi-defunct state that does not control its own  territory. All of these developments led to a tremendous surge of  patriotic feeling among Russians, who felt proud of being able to  reclaim what they saw as rightfully theirs and felt threatened by seeing  the Ukraine once again fall to the fascists. True to form, the Trump  administration has continued Obama’s this policy of Making Russia Great  Again by providing the Ukrainian military with lethal weapons and  advice.

3. Although the Russian annexation of Crimea, based on an overwhelming  victory in a popular referendum and a great showing of public support,  was impeccably legal in upholding the Crimea’s right to  self-determination (unlike NATO previous annexation of Kosovo), the  Obama administration saw it fit to impose economic sanctions on Russia  in retribution. These sanctions, together with Russia’s  counter-sanctions on food exports from the EU, have finally provided the  impetus for Russia to break with the past pattern of exporting gas and  oil and importing just about everything else, and to embrace the  strategy of import replacement. This has allowed Russia to become  self-sufficient in many areas, such as oil and gas exploration and  production technology, agriculture and many other areas. Although Russia  experienced a period of considerable economic difficulty which saw the  purchasing power of the population dwindle substantially, Russia’s  economy has survived. The popularity of the national leadership did not  suffer because most Russians now understand what they are fighting for  and, given the barrage of negative news from the Ukraine, who their  enemy is, and what would happen to them if they were to show weakness.

4. Although the Trump administration has mostly followed in Obama’s  footsteps in Making Russia Great Again, the most recent round of  anti-Russian sanctions, which the Trump administration did not impose  but only announced, as required by an act of Congress, was inadvertently  an act of pure genius. What Trump’s flunkies did was take the Kremlin  directory and the Forbes list of Russia’s wealthiest individuals, and  put them together into a single list of people. If these sanctions were  actually imposed rather than merely threatened, those having any  dealings with the individuals on this list would suffer legal  repercussions. The brilliance of this plan is in two parts. First, there  have been some differences of orientation among the members of the  Kremlin administration: some were more US-oriented than others. What  this list did was make them look foolish in their hopes of ever  appeasing the US. Before, the US had a few lukewarm champions inside the  Kremlin; now it has zero. Second, Russia has had a problem with wealthy  individuals moving their capital abroad, to Switzerland, to various  offshore tax havens, and most notably to the United States, which is the  money laundering capital of the world. But now Trump has threatened  them with wealth confiscation. At the same time, the Russian government  has extended a tax amnesty for those wishing to repatriate their  capital. As a result, a flood of money is now reentering the Russian  economy, giving it a major boost.

Once you put it all together, the charge against the last two US  administrations for Making Russia Great Again by aiding and abetting it,  unwittingly and through gross negligence, becomes compelling. There is,  of course, no chance at all that anybody will be put on trial for it,  but that may not be necessary. As shown by the #MeToo movement, it is no  longer necessary in contemporary America to prove a crime; a mere  allegation is now sufficient to end careers and to ruin reputations. You  can play this game too: of each US policy or initiative announced  against Russia, ask yourself: How is it going to help Make Russia Great  Again? Because it probably will.

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Rotunda to lift restrictions on partners attending appointments

Voice Of EU



Restrictions on partners attending appointments at the Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin are to be removed from the beginning of November.

The Rotunda said it was planning to return to “pre-Covid” access to appointments for patients and their partners as the country enters the next stage of living with the disease.

It said that from next Monday partners would be able to attend booking visit appointments and appointments in the hospital’s high-risk clinic. From November 1st, the hospital would “remove remaining restrictions for partners for other antenatal outpatient appointments”.

The hospital said it reviewed and risk assessed its Covid-19 safety measures each week, while taking into account rates of infection in the community, vaccination rates amongst patients and the hospital’s “unique infrastructural challenges”.

“We have already restored access similar to pre-pandemic levels in most areas of the hospital, including early pregnancy scans, anomaly scans, the emergency and assessment unit, and our inpatient wards,” the hospital said in a statement.

It said many of the Rotunda’s outpatient areas were “in older buildings with very small waiting areas” and in order to manage potential overcrowding in those areas it “strongly encouraged” patients to attend outpatient appointments alone. It recommended that women only bring partners for “occasional visits, such as if you have a complicated or special issue to discuss with your care team”.

The Rotunda said that at times when there is high footfall, partners could be asked to “wait outside the building until called to the consultation room”. It dded that it was important to remember that Covid-19 “has not gone away and is in fact endemic within our community”.

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When will face masks no longer be compulsory indoors in Spain?

Voice Of EU



With Covid-19 vaccine campaigns in their later stages and infection rates generally lower, several countries around the world have eased their face mask rules.

Such is the case in England, where masks are now not required in shops and even on certain modes of public transport, or in the US, where fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear one in most indoor settings. 

Spain on the other hand has been strict on its mask-wearing policy throughout the pandemic and its citizens have willingly complied in general.

Many people are still wearing masks outdoors, even though they’ve not been required by Spanish authorities since June, as long as a safety distance of 1.5 metres can be maintained.

So when might it be possible to remove face masks indoors in Spain (other than for eating and drinking) ?

In early October, Spanish media reported that Health Minister Carolina Darias had said that the use of masks indoors would be required until the spring of 2022.

On Wednesday at a press conference after Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council, Darias stressed she never stated that the mandatory use of masks would end in spring next year.

“The face mask has come to stay, at least while the flu virus or other possible viruses are present this autumn,” she reiterated.

“Spain was one of the first countries to regulate the safety distance in outdoor spaces to not have to wear a mask outside, but we know the importance of its use indoors where transmission by aerosols is proven”.

“Let’s take it slowly,” Darias concluded.

READ ALSO – Calendar: When will the Covid restrictions end across Spain?

As usual, Spain’s regional governments have their own views on Covid-19 rules.

Madrid president Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the regional leader with the most liberal take on Covid restrictions during the pandemic, has again taken a different approach by actually offering something closer to a date for when mandatory mask-wearing indoors will be scrapped.

The end of indoor masks should come “after Christmas,” stated Ayuso in late September. “Total” normality and “pre-pandemic” life should not be delayed beyond the spring of 2022, she added.  

Castilla-La Mancha president Emiliano García-Page has also suggested February 2022 as an end date for mandatory masks indoors in the central Spanish region. 

Are regions relaxing any mask-wearing rules?

Catalan Education Minister Josep González-Cambray said on Wednesday that “We will get rid of face masks in schools as soon as we can”. 

According to González-Cambray, the use of face masks in schools is a “health measure” dependent on epidemiological criteria, which is why it will be down to the health departments to decide.

In Valencia, the Generalitat government has said that it will scrap the requirement for children to wear a mask in the school playground. 

“We are working every week with the Health Department and in the next few days the protocol will be updated” because the numbers have been very favorable,” said Valencia’s Minister of Education Vicent Marzà on Saturday.

However, in the Balearic Islands, the regional government has decided the use of masks in the school playground should continue, causing an outcry from many students and their parents.

Balearic  Minister of Health Patricia Gómez confirmed yesterday that the use of masks will continue to be mandatory in school playgrounds “until the situation improves”.

READ ALSO – Going out in Spain: What are the rules for bars and nightclubs?

Why wait until after the winter if the numbers are good now?

The epidemiological situation in Spain is currently the best it’s been since autumn of last year, with a 14-day cumulative incidence of 40.85 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

This means that the country is currently at very low risk for Covid infections according to the categorisation used by the Spanish health ministry.

In addition to this, almost 80 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a percentage that’s higher still if focusing only on those who are eligible for the vaccine (people aged 12 and over).

According to César Carballo, deputy emergency physician at Hospital Ramón y Cajal in Madrid, Spain is in a good epidemiological situation now which should allow to at least remove their masks outdoors.

But flu season is on its way, government leaders and health professionals are keen for the use of masks indoors to continue until after the winter.  

“There is talk that we may have more cases of the flu. We do not know. Last year the flu disappeared completely. We will see this year,” Carballo told Spanish TV channel La Sexta.

“Health personnel are exhausted … to suffer a wave of flu this year would be a severe blow,” he added. “If it were up to me I would maintain that mask-wearing indoors should be required until January or February, accompanied by hand washing and distance”.

READ ALSO: Getting the flu vaccine in Spain in 2021: What you need to know

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