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Bumblebees Face Extinction From the Climate Crisis

Animals
Bumblebees Face Extinction From the Climate Crisis
A bumblebee on a Dusky Cranesbill geranium plant on May 14, 2018 in London, England. Victoria Jones - WPA Pool / Getty Images

Rampant pesticide use and habitat loss has already crippled bumblebee populations. New research now shows that warming temperatures around the world will further push bumblebees to the brink of extinction, as The New York Times reported.


The loss of bumblebees spells trouble for plant biodiversity since they are some of the most important pollinators in the world. Bumblebees pollinate and fertilize a wide array of plants and crops, including tomatoes, blueberries and squash. However, if you are in North America, you are nearly 50 percent less likely to see a bumblebee in any given area than you were prior to 1974, according to the new research, as National Geographic reported.

The new research, published in the journal Science, employed a massive dataset and a complex modeling system to look at bee populations and to find the reason for their decline. The researchers found that bee populations have experienced the largest decline in places that have warmed at a faster rate than the rest of the planet.

Some bumblebee species have disappeared from areas where they once flourished. For example, the rusty-patched bumblebee once thrived in Ontario, but now it is no longer found in Canada. In the U.S., it is endangered, as National Geographic reported.

"The things [we] grew up with as kids are fading away very fast," said Dr. Jeremy Kerr, senior author of the study and a biology professor at the University of Ottawa, as CNN reported.

"It's not just that we're looking at what our kids will experience; it's that we are looking back not even a full generation, just to when we were kids, and saying, 'Could we take our children to places we loved and find what we found?' What our study says is that that answer is no across entire continents."

The scientists at the University of Ottawa looked at 66 different bumblebee species across two continents. They found that bumblebee populations have declined by 46 percent in North America and by 17 percent in Europe compared to the period from 1901 to 1974, according to the study.

"The scale of this decline is really worrying," said Peter Soroye, a doctoral student in biology at the University of Ottawa and lead author of the study, to The New York Times. "This group of organisms is such a critical pollinator in wild landscapes and agricultural regions."

To build their model, the researchers relied on a database of roughly 550,000 bee records over a century. The researchers looked at two time periods: 1901 to 1974 and 2000 to 2015. Then they examined if temperatures and precipitation exceeded the bumblebees' tolerance level, as CNN reported.

Bumblebees, which prefer cooler, slightly wet temperatures, perished in areas that had heat waves, prolonged dryness, or frequently extreme weather. That pattern, which is commensurate with the climate crisis, threatens bumblebees with extinction and from the possibility of establishing colonies or creating new species, according to CNN.

Kerr said that there are several mechanisms at play. Bees can simply overheat. Or, as plants wither, the bees starve. Additionally, early springs and re-freezings threaten queens, which spend the winter in forest leaf litter, as National Geographic reported.

The loss of bees may have a devastating effect on plants that rely on them and animals that rely on those plants.

"As these plants are then used by myriad other organisms, the decline of bumblebees can have cascading ecological [effects] that may collectively cause biodiversity loss," said Matthew Austin, a Ph.D. student and researcher at the University of Missouri in St. Louis who wasn't involved in the paper, to National Geographic.

"Our results show that we face a future with many less bumble bees and much less diversity, both in the outdoors and on our plates," said Soroye in a University of Ottawa statement.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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