Scientists Spot 'Ultra-Rare’ Blue Bee Feared Extinct
Scientists have "rediscovered" a rare blue bee that they feared was extinct.
Until this spring, the "ultra-rare" blue calamintha bee (Osmia calaminthae) had only been observed in four locations in central Florida, and it hadn't been seen at all since 2016. So when Florida Museum of Natural History research team Chase Kimmel and Jaret Daniels set out to document the bee's population status and habits, they weren't sure what they would find.
"I was open to the possibility that we may not find the bee at all so that first moment when we spotted it in the field was really exciting," Kimmel, a postdoctoral researcher, said in a museum press release.
#Florida’s rare blue calamintha bee was feared extinct until researchers in @jcdaniels lab rediscovered the species… https://t.co/BbdU6ZDrJq— Florida Museum (@Florida Museum)1588866013.0
Kimmel first spotted the bee March 9, he told USA TODAY in an email. Since then, he has spotted the elusive pollinator in three of its previous locations and six additiona locations, according to the museum.
The research could have important implications for the bee's chances of survival. Florida's State Wildlife Action Plan lists the bee as a species of greatest conservation need, and the study will help determine if it warrants Endangered Species Act protections.
The bee is so vulnerable in part because it is thought to rely on a threatened plant called Ashe's calamint and live only in Florida's Lake Wales Ridge region, a hotspot of biodiversity that the museum calls "one of the nation's fastest-disappearing ecosystems."
The ridge hosts so much unique life because, when most of Florida was underwater, it was raised above the waves in high sand dunes that acted like islands, giving isolated ecosystems a chance to flourish. Now, these habitats are islands of pine scrub in a sea of orange groves.
"It's one thing to read about habitat loss and development and another to be driving for 30-40 minutes through miles of orange groves just to get to a really small conservation site," Kimmel said. "It puts into perspective how much habitat loss affects all the animals that live in this area."
The bee also exhibits unique behaviors. It gathers pollen by bobbing its head side to side to collect it on its facial hairs. The very first time he saw the bee, Kimmel got a chance to see this in action.
"We observed a shiny little blue bee grabbing the flower and rubbing its head on the top portion of the flower two or three times before moving on to another flower," Kimmel told CNN. "In reading about this unique behavior we were pretty shocked to see it."
Kimmel and Daniels' research is set to last two years and determine the bee's feeding and nesting habits. So far, the team has found another plant the bee will use if it can't find Ashe's calamint.
The research has been hampered somewhat by the coronavirus pandemic, since travel restrictions mean Kimmel is in the field alone during the bee's flight season from mid-March to early May.
"It's a very time-limited flight. Now is when the bulk of that activity has to take place," Daniels, who is acting as Kimmel's adviser and is also the director of the museum's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, said in the press release. "Chase is doing a fantastic job and we're getting a lot of great data, but if it wasn't for the COVID-19 virus we would have had more people in the field, so it has definitely scaled back what we're able to do."
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.