Citizen Scientists Track Bee Health and Shed Light on Colony Collapse Disorder
By Maureen Wise
You've probably heard that bees—their honey, their awesome pollinating powers and their stingers—are on the decline. It's a global problem that affects more than just the little yellow and black buzzers; it can and will interrupt the way we produce food if it continues. Bees pollinate most of the crops farmers grow worldwide, so without them, we don't have food. Most scientists agree that pesticides, drought, habitat loss, pollution and other major environmental concerns are all contributing to colony collapse disorder. It's a big deal and there are a lot of people working to keep bees buzzing.
Colorado Top Bar hive
A new project has set out to help understand the issue in individual colonies and bring the problem to the people called Open Source Beehives. This multi-continent partnership between Open Tech Collaborative and Fab Lab Barcelona proposes public participation through easily made backyard hives in conjunction with software that will track hive health.
Individuals can be part of the solution—and the fun—by keeping bees themselves. To construct the hives, keepers don't need glue or screws, only a 4 foot by 8 foot piece of plywood and a CNC router. Those who aren't quite as tech savvy with computer controlled saws can buy a prefabricated kit. There are two models: the smaller Colorado Top Bar (pictured) and the multi-tiered Barcelona Warre. They are easily shipped due to their flat design and packaging.
These “smart hives" will be connected to Smart Citizen through a piece of hardware installed within the hives. Users can view data online as well as through a mobile app. Information such as CO levels, humidity, bee count, noise intensity and more will be sent via Wi-Fi. An upcoming feature will notify beekeepers when there is something amiss within their hive.
The partnership is an open source project, meant to be shared and improved upon through community. Web programmers can find the code for the monitoring software on GibHub, the world's largest code sharing site. Those with other talents and knowledge are also encouraged to help with the project. To contribute, visit Open Source Beehives' collaboration page.
The partnership is finding that many citizens want to participate. Tristan Copley Smith, co-founder and communications director of Open Source Beehives, said, "What we find very interesting is the difference between the public and the political appetite for action on the bee issue—and other ecological issues. Citizens understand the urgency, and are supporting our project, building hives, and helping us improve. Political actors on the other hand have yet to take any meaningful steps on the issue. Citizen science projects in general are giving the public avenues to participate in solving issues themselves, rather than sitting around waiting for solutions from the dysfunctional and corrupt bureaucracies that are failing to protect our planet." You can help by reminding your local government officials how important the issue of colony collapse disorder is and urging them to get involved.
Learn more about Open Source Beehives:
The project has already hosted a successful IndeGoGo campaign to fund the creation of their open source sensor pack and intends to also conduct a Kickstarter campaign in the future.
Correction: The previous byline listed was inaccurate. The byline has been updated.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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