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Coalition Builds Buzz on Pollinator Decline With National Ad Campaign

Coalition Builds Buzz on Pollinator Decline With National Ad Campaign

In the name of pollinator protection, more than 60 organizations launched a national media campaign yesterday to bring attention to the severity of bee colony declines due to the use of toxic pesticides. Full-page advertisements ran in the New York Times and six other major papers, according to Beyond Pesticides.

Coinciding with the onset of the European Union’s two-year moratorium on three of the most potent and harmful neonicotinoids, the media campaign highlights the impacts of bee declines as well as encourages readers to call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take necessary action.

“We hope this national media campaign will spur public action to combat this major threat to the environment and to our food system. We must protect bees and other pollinators from these harmful pesticides that EPA has so far failed to safeguard them from,” said Larissa Walker, policy and campaign coordinator for Center for Food Safety.

Beekeepers in the U.S. have been losing, on average, more than 30 percent of their bees each year since 2006—twice what is considered sustainable, reports Pesticide Action Network. Commercial beekeepers lost more than 50 percent of their colonies last year—some even reported losses of 70 percent or more.

Though a multitude of scientific studies have linked bee declines to pesticides, in particular a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, the U.S. still allows their widespread use. 

“Protecting bees and pollinators is an urgent matter that must bring our nation together to balance our need for a bountiful food production system and a sustainable environment,” said Jay Feldman, executive director for Beyond Pesticides.

One in every three bites of food depends on bees for pollination, and the annual value of pollination services worldwide are valued at over $125 billion, according to Beyond Pesticides. In the U.S. alone, pollination contributes $20-30 billion in agricultural production annually. 

“Honey bees play a crucial role in pollinating the world’s food crops,” said Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chairman of Stonyfield, and one of the ad signatories. “So protecting bees from pesticides is not only good for bees, but also for business; the loss of honey bees is a direct threat to the ability of farmers and food companies to deliver diverse, nutritional foods.”

With the EPA operating on a sluggish schedule—stating that it is at least five years away from doing anything to protect bees from pesticides—the campaign is hoping to put pressure on the agency to complete its review of neonicotinoids, which currently isn't due out until 2018. Until this review is complete the EPA can not take action to adequately protect bees and regulate pesticides.

““The EU reviewed hundreds of scientific studies and concluded that a two year moratorium was a necessary first step. The U.S. has failed to even come close to that standard,” said Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “EPA should follow the science and take action to protect bees from harmful pesticides.”

Since the EPA has failed to step up in a timely way, states across the U.S. are taking on pollinator protection themselves. In New York and New Jersey, legislatures have  introduced bills that would ban or track neonicotinoids, according to Pesticide Action Network. Last week in Oregon regulators announced plans to restrict the use of neonicotinoids on trees which was linked to a recent massive bee kill in that state.

“Beekeepers are losing colonies at an unprecedented rate—the losses are too extreme to keep up with, and our entire industry is at risk of collapse unless federal action is taken," said New York beekeeper Jim Doan. "Convening conferences and changing pesticide labels is lip service and window dressing to the issue, but has no substance.” 

The full-page ad also appeared in the Boston Globe, the Washington PostPoliticoMinneapolis Star Tribune, the Des Moines Register and the Los Angeles Times.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic. 

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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