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2018’s Extreme Weather Harmed UK Bumblebees

Animals
2018’s Extreme Weather Harmed UK Bumblebees
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A year of extreme weather partly linked to climate change took its toll on the UK's bumblebees.


A new report from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust found that, while some rare species did well in 2018, most of the country's species of bumblebee suffered in 2018 due to both freezing weather in February and March and a summer heat wave, The Press Association reported.

The data was based on a "BeeWalk" project in which citizen scientists walk through certain flower-rich habitats at least once a month from March to October and record the number of bees they see. In 2018, 482 people submitted data from 559 sites.

"Whilst it is great to see the four 'biggest species winners' from our latest BeeWalk data are rare bumblebees, it's concerning to see four of our seven commonest bumblebees have declined over the last nine years," Bumblebee Conservation Trust Science Manager Richard Comont said.

The bees were first harmed by the "Beast from the East" winter storm in late February and early March, which delayed the 2018 bumblebee season. Some scientists believe there is a link between the melting of Arctic sea ice due to climate change and the conditions that allow cold weather to sweep down into lower latitudes, as it did during the Beast from the East. A study published in 2018 found that warmer Arctic weather made cold winters in the Eastern U.S. and northern Europe more likely. However, the connection is not yet fully understood, as CarbonBrief explained at the time.

After the cold weather, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust found that most of the UK's 24 species of bumblebee took until July to recover and reach regular numbers. But then a summer heat wave and drought parched flowers, reducing the bees' food supply and causing their numbers to decline. Scientists calculated that climate change more than doubled the likelihood of Europe's 2018 heat wave.

The Early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) had its worst year since 2012, which was marked by near constant rain, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust said in a press release. Other common garden bees that struggled in 2018 included the Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum), the Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), the Heath bumblebee (Bombus jonellus) and the White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum aggregate).

On the other hand, some rare species that emerge later in the spring and enjoy hot weather had a good year. They included the Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis), the Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum) and the Large Garden Ruderal bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus).

The Trust worried that the events of 2018 could have implications for the future health of Britain's bumblebees:

The impact of the 2018 heatwave has raised concerns about the number of bumblebee queens that made it into hibernation over the 2018 to 2019 winter. 2018 was the worst year for bumblebee abundance – the number of individuals per species – recorded by BeeWalk since 2012. This could have a potential knock on effect on populations in 2019. The likelihood of long heatwaves like 2018 becoming more frequent could cause problems for Britain's bumblebee populations in the longer term.

Bumblebee Conservation Trust CEO Gill Perkins had advice for what bee lovers could do to give struggling pollinators a hand.

"We all need to make sure our gardens, parks and greenspaces are bumblebee-friendly to stop today's common species becoming tomorrow's rarities," she said.

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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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