By Jessica Corbett
Raising further concerns about the global food production system, a new study found that bees worldwide are being widely exposed to dangerous agricultural chemicals, with 75 percent of honey samples from six continents testing positive for pesticides known to harm pollinators.
"What this shows is the magnitude of the contamination," the study's lead author, Edward Mitchell, a biology professor at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, told the Denver Post. He said there were "relatively few places where we did not find any" contaminated samples.
For the study, published in the journal Science, Mitchell's team of researchers examined nearly 200 samples for the five most commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides or neonics.
- in North America, 86 percent of samples from contained one or more neonicotinoid;
- in Asia, 80 percent;
- in Europe (where there is a partial ban), 79 percent;
- in Africa 73 percent;
- in and around Australia, 71 percent;
- and in South America, 57 percent.
Although researchers believe the measured concentrations of neonicotinoids in the tested honey samples are not enough to harm humans, they warn that "a significant detrimental effect on bees is likely for a substantial proportion of the analyzed samples, as adult bees rely on honey for food, including during periods of overwintering or seasons without blossoming flowers."
Study co-author Alexandre Aebi, also from the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, told BBC News that humans "would have to eat an awful lot of honey and other contaminated products to see an effect," but he thinks "it's a warning and it is a call for a precautionary principle."
Aebi said that he and the other researchers are especially concerned that so many samples contained two or more neonicotinoids. Nearly half of all the honey samples showed more than two types of neonics, and 10 percent had four or more. Overall, more than a third of the samples featured pesticides at levels known to harm bees.
When pollinators such as bees consume pollen and nectar that contains neonicotinoids, they have been shown to experience learning and memory problems, which can interfere with their ability to gather food. The impact can be so severe that it jeopardizes the health of the entire hive.
"The increasingly documented sublethal effects of neonicotinoid pesticides at environmentally relevant concentrations on bees," the researchers note, "include growth disorders, reduced efficiency of the immune system, neurological and cognitive disorders, respiratory and reproductive function, queen survival, foraging efficiency," and decreased homing capacity.
"It is definitely scary for honeybees and other bees and useful insects," Aebi said. "We have up to five molecules in one single sample. From a risk assessment point of view, the evaluation of the risk is made from one single compound in one test organism. So the cocktail is not tested. Mixed effects should be taken seriously."
The impact on bees of continuing to use these pesticides is expected to have widespread consequences.
"In 2014, a global assessment of neonicotinoids concluded that their widespread use was putting the global food production system at risk," the Guardian noted on Thursday. An updated assessment that is slated to appear in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research found even stronger evidence that the insecticides are harmful, and reportedly concludes: "The consequences are far reaching and cannot be ignored any longer."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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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