New Clues Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts
By Tara Lohan
Fall used to be the time when millions of monarch butterflies in North America would journey upwards of 2,000 miles to warmer winter habitat.
But these days the iconic butterfly's numbers are dwindling. The western migratory population is down 97% since the 1980s — a survey this month found fewer than 2,000 — and the eastern population has slipped 80% in just the past 15 years.
Because of these grim numbers the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in December that monarchs deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act, but it would still be several years before the butterflies were listed as threatened or endangered.
It's time the species may not have.
Halting the precipitous decline of North American monarch populations hinges, in large part, on milkweed. It's the sole plant the caterpillars eat and where monarchs lay their eggs. It's also quickly disappearing with increasing urbanization and pesticide use.
Since monarchs can't survive without milkweed, conservation efforts have focused on planting more milkweed. But it's not as simple as it sounds.
"We've learned a good bit in the past two or three years about how to create these types of habitats, but there's not a whole lot of evidence guiding the way we create the plantings," says Adam Dale, an assistant professor in entomology at the University of Florida. "For example, the diversity of plants in a garden, the specific plants that are used and their arrangement — all of those things matter for how the butterflies are able to locate the hosts and move from one to the next."
In a new study published in the journal Insects, Dale and his colleagues tried to identify whether more diversity of wildflowers in milkweed gardens would be a boon for the beleaguered butterflies or whether plots should contain only milkweed plants.
A monarch butterfly caterpillar feeds on common milkweed on Poplar Island in Maryland. Photo: Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program, (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Biological diversity in ecosystems is usually a good thing, but a large body of research has shown that more diverse habitat may not be good for species like monarchs that are so specialized in what they eat.
"There's a potential for actually reducing monarch success by increasing the diversity of plants," in these conservation gardens, says Dale.
One reason is that a more varied garden can make it harder for the insects to find their host plants if they're obscured visually or chemically. A recent study from researchers at the University of Kentucky found that monarchs did better when milkweed was planted on the perimeter of gardens.
Another reason has to do with the "enemies hypothesis," where greater plant diversity means more natural enemies for specialist herbivores like monarchs. Increase the plant diversity and increase the chance of larvae being eaten.
That's why, Dale says, they were surprised by some of their findings.
In the study, areas where they planted a mix of native swamp milkweed and other wildflowers saw an increase in monarch eggs compared to areas planted with just milkweed. And even though there was an increase in the number of predatory insects, as suspected, it didn't have an effect on the number of monarch larvae that survived.
"So what we were concerned about didn't come through," he says.
While the study was done in Florida, Dale says in general the findings should be applicable to monarch populations in other places.
"Our main goal is to try to create conservation habitat in urban areas where we're replacing natural habitat with human habitat," he says. "So ultimately we're trying to figure out ways to integrate these types of gardens into our yards and green spaces, and just try to make them as good as they can be."
With monarchs teetering on the edge of extinction, Dale hopes applying what they've learned from research like this can help make conservation efforts more successful.
"I hope that people who are interested in conserving monarchs and other insects will see this because I think it provides a little more evidence that helps inform how people create these types of gardens," Dale says. "Whether that's a homeowner, a green-space land manager in an urban area, a golf course superintendent looking to create conservation habitat or anyone who's creating these spaces, I think they could use this to improve the condition of the habitat they're creating."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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