By Andrea Germanos
Despite lower applied amounts of pesticides in U.S. agriculture, their toxicity to non-target species including honeybees more than doubled in a decade, according to a new study.
The findings by a team of researchers from Germany's University Koblenz-Landau were published Friday in the journal Science.
"We have taken a large body of pesticide use data from the U.S. and have expressed changes of amounts applied in agriculture over time as changes in total applied pesticide toxicity," explained lead author Ralf Schulz, professor for environmental sciences in Landau, in a statement.
"This provides a new view on the potential consequences that pesticide use in agriculture has on biodiversity and ecosystems," he said.
The researchers looked at changes in the use of 381 pesticides from 1992 to 2016 and analyzed toxicity impacts on eight non-target species groups, drawing data from the U.S. Geological Survey and Environmental Protection Agency. They used the EPA's threshold values to determine "total applied pesticide toxicity."
Lower amounts of pesticides have been applied, which brought decreased impacts on vertebrates, the scientists noted. But the same can't be said for non-target species including aquatic invertebrates like crustaceans and pollinators like bees, who faced a doubling in toxicity between 2005 and 2015 — a shift the authors put on increases in the use of pesticides called pyrethroids and neonicotinoids.
Also troubling is that an increase in herbicide toxicity has been on the rise as well, the scientists said, with the biggest impact seen on terrestrial plants. The study pointed to increased toxicity in the widely cultivated genetically modified crops in the U.S. of corn and soybean.
Schulz said the findings "challenge the claims of decreasing environmental impact of chemical pesticides in both conventional and GM crops and call for action to reduce the pesticide toxicity applied in agriculture worldwide."
The study was released amid continued concerns, both nationally and international, about wide-ranging adverse ecological impacts of neonicotinoids, or neonics, as they're sometimes called, especially amid a global decline in insect numbers that threatens humanity's future.
As Philip Donkersley, a senior research associate in entomology at Lancaster University, wrote this month at The Conversation:
Since their introduction in the late 1980s, robust scientific evidence has emerged to suggest these chemicals impair learning and memory, foraging behavior, and pollination in bees. The E.U. banned neonicotinoids in 2019, and while the U.K. government pledged to follow suit, it granted a special exemption for sugar beet farmers to use the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam in January 2021. Thankfully, it wasn't used.
Because honeybees don't spend much time on the ground, environmental risk assessments for neonicotinoids often neglect to consider how exposure to these chemicals in the soil affects all pollinators. But in a landmark study published in Nature, researchers have shown how neonicotinoids affect bees not just by accumulating in the plants pollinators visit, but in the ground where most wild bees build their nests.
Evidence suggests neonics' impacts go well beyond bees, including possibly to mammals like deer who inadvertently consume them.
As Civil Eats reported last month, the concerns are prompting continued demands for U.S. regulators to take action to curb or ban use of neonics.
Daniel Raichel, a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the outlet: "It's a bee issue for sure, but really, it's an ecosystem issue. It's an everything issue."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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- Pesticide Exposure Changes Bees' Genes - EcoWatch ›
By Daniel Raichel
While many know Chicago as the "Second City," the old stomping grounds of Michael Jordan or Al Capone, or perhaps even still as "Hog Butcher to the World," I doubt many think of it as a home for endangered wildlife.
However, as a recent Chicago Tribune article shows, that's exactly what it is for one of our very favorite endangered pollinators—the rusty patched bumble bee.
For the better part of a decade, NRDC has fought for the rusty patched bumble bee's survival, and we are now suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the fourth time—this time, to reverse a Trump-Era decision not to designate federally protected "critical habitat" for the bee.
That's why it was particularly sweet to learn that a couple of rusty patched bumble bees were spotted foraging near the Rogers Park Metra stop, not far from the Honeybear Cafe and some of my old foraging grounds growing up.
"Rogers Park Metra Community Garden" by LN is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Although the article provides a fun "work meets life" moment for me, it also underscores the importance of our lawsuit. As Abby Shafer of the Evanston Native Bee Initiative notes, one patch of native habitat can be meaningful, but what's most needed is a network of interconnected habitat so that the bee's populations can recover and once again thrive.
By refusing to designate "critical habitat" for the bee, the Fish and Wildlife Service effectively scuttled any plan for such a federally protected habitat network—breaking the law and putting this magnificent and vulnerable bee one step closer to extinction. That's why we'll keep fighting in court until we (yet again) secure the protections that the rusty patched bumble bee deserves.
Who knows, if we're successful, maybe you'll see the rusty patched bumble bee in your neighborhood too.
"The Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park" by UGArdener is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Americans take great pride in their lawns. A centuries-old practice adopted from Great Britain and Northern France, lawns have become a status symbol; a standard fixture of American communities.
In the United States, more than 40 million acres of land are covered in grass, making it the single largest irrigated crop in the country, requiring more labor, fuel, toxins, and equipment than industrial farming. These vast areas of monoculture (the practice of planting only a single crop) do ultimately have devastating consequences for ecosystem health.
Constituting 2% of the continental US, turf grass has a substantial environmental impact, especially in regards to lawn care: 3 trillion gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas (for mowing), and 70 million pounds of pesticides are used for lawn maintenance every year; fertilizer – containing large concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous – runs off of lawns, into storm drains, and eventually flows to waterways, causing algal blooms and contaminating drinking water; herbicides and pesticides kill unwanted – yet necessary – plants and insects, causing harm to humans and wildlife alike.
Moreover, the turf grass used for most lawns in the United States isn't native to North America and doesn't support the rich, diverse life needed for a healthy ecosystem. Blanketing an area with exclusively non-native grass eliminates the habitats of native plants and insects, decimating the biodiversity of the area and creating far-reaching consequences for food chains.
While boasting a bright green, perfectly mowed, immaculate lawn has become the norm, turning your yard into a native ecological refuge – sometimes called "naturescaping" – with these eco-friendly alternatives can do wonders for the biodiversity and overall health of your backyard ecosystem.
1. Native Plants and Flowers
Lake Lou / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
The ryegrass and Kentucky Bluegrass that make up most American lawns aren't native to the US; between 5,000 and 385,000 acres of native ecosystems are displaced by lawns every day, crowding out regional flowers, plants, and grasses across the country. Without these native plants, monoculture lawns are essentially wastelands for birds and pollinators – like bees, whose populations have been declining rapidly around the world – eliminating the flowers they feed on and locations for nesting.
Choosing to instead foster a yard of native flowers and plants creates a ripple affect in regional food chains: plants provide food for the bugs and bees that depend on it, which in turn provide food for mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, restoring the biodiversity that has been lost. Creating a deliberate landscaping plan to replace grass with low-maintenance plants will attract wildlife and bring some beauty to your backyard.
In urban areas, clover, dandelion, and other lawn "weeds" have been identified as some of the most important food sources for bees, and flowers like columbine, monarda, asters, and holly provide a friendly habitat for birds. Of course, native plants vary by region, so be sure to check with your state's Native Plant Society to find the right species for your eco-haven.
2. Grass Alternatives
If you love to look out the window at your luscious patch of green, you don't have to give it up entirely.
Groundcover plants provide an alternative to turf, but eliminate the need for mowing and still deliver that traditional verdant green. Clover, creeping jenny, barberry cotoneaster, Corsican mint, and creeping herbs like thyme and oregano require very little maintenance; clover especially needs little attention once it's established, suppresses weeds, and has a deep root system that aerates the soil.
Flowering perennial groundcover species – like sweet woodruff, liriope, and horned violets – bring a dash of color to your yard and often do well in shaded areas, as do many kinds of moss. Species of native ornamental grass thrive in different ranges of light, moisture, and soil, giving you plenty of options for your space.
Growing a natural lawn also eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, improves soil quality, and prevents erosion – all while creating a native habitat for the birds and the bees.
3. Befriend the Bugs
The prevailing rhetoric of traditional yard maintenance is to eliminate as many humming, buzzing, and crawling things as possible, which drives away the beneficial bugs that foster healthy, thriving ecosystems such as ladybugs, spiders, and ground beetles. While caterpillars and Japanese beetles might not be a welcome sight, not all bugs are a bad sign!
During their lifetime, ladybugs may eat as many as 5,000 aphids – a common backyard enemy. Ground beetles too feed on less-desirable bugs like caterpillars, slugs, weevils, and nematodes. To encourage such insects to make a home in your yard, you can purchase many of them online or at garden stores to jumpstart the process. But, once you begin to populate your yard with native plants and bid the turf adieu, the insects should start crawling, flying, and buzzing back.
Learn what beneficial bugs live in your area so you can identify the signs of a healthy, bio-diverse lawn.
4. Ditch the Fertilizer …
While typical fertilizers ramp up the productivity of farms and might keep our backyards emerald green, they also emit harmful greenhouse gases – accounting for 1.5% of global emissions – and fertilized lawns are no exception.
According to Dr. Chuanhui Gu of Appalachian State University, a standard lawn emits up to 6 times more CO2 than what can be absorbed during photosynthesis through mowing, irrigating, and fertilizing, including the production and transportation of the fertilizer.
Instead of synthetic fertilizers, try adding organic nutrients to your eco-friendly lawn by spreading compost. "Topdressing" your yard with compost supplies nutrients and keeps the soil healthy without depleting it, allowing you to maintain a healthy ecosystem for the diverse plant and animal life thriving in your eco-oasis.
5. … and the Pesticides
Henner Zeller / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Scientists have directly linked pesticides to the demise of frog, bat, and bee populations, throwing delicately balanced ecosystems and food chains into disorder. Ninety percent of flowering plants depend on bees and other pollinators to survive – species that have seen alarming decreases in population across the globe (also referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder).
Luckily, saving the bees can start in your own backyard: lawn-owners can make a tangible difference by cutting pesticides from their lawn-care regimen. Allowing native plants and weeds to grow freely and bugs to crawl amongst them will save the lives of your local bees, providing them a sanctuary to live, eat, and thrive in.
6. No-Mow Zones
Mile-for-mile, gas-powered lawn mowers produce about 11 times more pollution than a new car, estimates the EPA – so, running a single gas-powered mower for an hour is nearly equivalent in emissions to a 100-mile car trip.
Mowing lawns is also extremely time-consuming, accounting for more than three million collective hours each year for Americans, who, on average, mow their lawns 22 times per year. Think of the time saved by going no-mow!
The No-Mow Movement encourages lawn-owners to leave native grasses to their own devices, growing tall and wild to eliminate the environmental cost of watering and mowing, and allowing a more natural landscape to take over unimpeded. If you've decided on an alternative to grass that requires no mowing – like clover or moss – you're already there.
Do keep an eye out for invasive weeds in your no-mow lawn that might crowd out native plants and grasses.
Before embarking on your eco-oasis adventure, you'll need to set about "killing" your lawn – that is, doing away with existing turf grass to make way for your native plants and no-mow zones.
Covering the lawn with a sheet of black plastic will trap heat and kill the turf underneath; or, adopt the no-till method of layering newspaper over a section of grass and covering it with a few inches of soil. The newspaper will decay over time and provide a fresh start for your new lawn.
While recovering global biodiversity may seem like a daunting goal, cutting down your environmental impact and saving native ecosystems can all begin in your own yard!
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Along with her most recent position at Hunger Free America, she has interned with the Sierra Club in Washington, DC., Saratoga Living Magazine, and Philadelphia's NPR Member Station, WHYY.
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- It's Time to Get Rid of Your Lawn! - EcoWatch ›
By Brian Lovett
As winter phases into spring across the U.S., gardeners are laying in supplies and making plans. Meanwhile, as the weather warms, common garden insects such as bees, beetles and butterflies will emerge from underground burrows or nests within or on plants.
Most gardeners know how beneficial insects can be for their plots. Flies pollinate flowers. Predatory bugs, such as the spined shoulder bug, eat pest insects that otherwise would tuck into garden plants.
As a scientist whose research involves insects and as a gardener, I know that many beneficial insect species are declining and need humans' help. If you're a gardener looking for a new challenge this year, consider revamping all or part of your yard to support beneficial insects.
Lawns Are Insect Food Deserts
Some gardeners choose native plants to attract and support helpful insects. Often, however, those native plants are surrounded by vast expanses of lawn.
The vast majority of insect species find blades of grass as unappetizing as we do. Yet, lawns sprawl out across many public and private spaces. NASA estimated in 2005 that lawns covered at least 50,000 square miles (128,000 square kilometers) of the U.S. – about the size of the entire state of Mississippi.
A well-manicured lawn is a sure sign that humanity has imposed its will on nature. Lawns provide an accessible and familiar landscape, but they come at a cost for our six-legged neighbors. Grasses grown as turf provide very few places for insects to safely tuck themselves away, because homeowners and groundskeepers cut them short – before they send up flowering spikes – and apply fertilizers and pesticides to keep them green.
Entomologists have a recommendation: Dig up some fraction of your lawn and convert it into a meadow by replacing grass with native wildflowers. Wildflowers provide pollen and nectar that feed and attract a variety of insects like ants, native bees and butterflies. Just as you may have a favorite local restaurant, insects that live around you have a taste for the flowers that are native to their areas.
Have you thought about this? https://t.co/nz31BXYKKI— David Steen, Ph.D. (@David Steen, Ph.D.)1562630208.0
This bold choice will not just benefit insects. Healthier insects support local birds, and meadows require fewer chemical inputs and less mowing than lawns. The amount of attention lawns demand from us, even if we outsource the work to a landscaping company, is a sign of their precarity.
A meadow is a wilder, more resilient option. Resilient ecosystems are better able to respond to and recover from disturbances.
Entomologist Ryan Gott, integrated pest management and quality control specialist at Maitri Genetics in Pittsburgh, describes lawns and meadows as two opposite ends of a resiliency spectrum. "As far as basic ecological functions go, a lawn does not have many. A lawn mainly extracts nutrition and water, usually receiving outside inputs of fertilizer and irrigation to stay alive, and returns very little to the system," he told me.
Native flowers, by definition, will grow well in your climate, although some areas will have more choices than others and growing seasons vary. Native plants also provide a palette of colors and variety that lawns sorely lack. By planting them as a meadow, with many different flowers emerging throughout the growing season, you can provide for a diverse assortment of local insects. And mowing and fertilizing less will leave you more time to appreciate wildlife of all sizes.
There are many different types of meadows, and every wildflower species has different preferences for soil type and conditions. Meadows thrive in full sunlight, which is also where lawns typically do well.
Making Insects Feel at Home
Not every yard can support a meadow, but there are other ways to be a better, more considerate neighbor to insects. If you have a shady yard, consider modeling your garden after natural landscapes like woodlands that are shady and support insects.
What's important in landscaping with insects in mind, or "entoscaping," is considering insects early and often when you visit the garden store. With a few pots or window boxes, even a balcony can be converted into a cozy insect oasis.
If you're gardenless, you can still support insect health. Try replacing white outdoor lights, which interfere with many insects' feeding and breeding patterns. White lights also lure insects into swarms, where they are vulnerable to predators. Yellow bulbs or warm-hued LEDs don't have these effects.
Another easy project is using scrap wood and packing materials to create simple "hotels" for bees or ladybugs, making sure to carefully sanitize them between seasons. Easiest of all, provide water for insects to drink – they're adorable to watch as they sip. Replace standing water at least weekly to prevent mosquitoes from developing.
A Refuge in Every Yard
Many resources across the U.S. offer advice on converting your lawn or making your yard more insect-friendly.
The Xerces Society for Insect Conservation publishes a guide to establishing meadows to sustain insects. Local university extension offices post tips on growing meadows with specific instructions and resources for their areas. Gardening stores often have experience and carry selections of local plants.
You may find established communities of enthusiasts for local plants and seeds, or your journey could be the start of such a group. Part of the fun of gardening is learning what plants need to be healthy, and a new endeavor like entoscaping will provide fresh challenges.
In my view, humans all too often see ourselves as separate from nature, which leads us to relegate biodiversity to designated parks. In fact, however, we are an important part of the natural world, and we need insects just as much as they need us. As ecologist Douglas Tallamy argues in his book, Nature's Best Hope, the best way to protect biodiversity is for people to plant native plants and promote conservation in every yard.
Brian Lovett is a postdoctoral researcher in mycology at West Virginia University.
Disclosure statement: Brian Lovett does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
The so-called murder hornet, known for its "excruciating" sting and ability to wipe out an entire bee-colony in just a few hours, is coming out of hibernation and scientists need help in eradicating them, VICE reported.
Scientists in the U.S. and Canada announced a "war" against the murder hornet as it begins to establish its nests in spring, AP reported. Over the past two years, the world's largest hornets have been spotted in British Columbia and Washington state.
"This is not a species we want to tolerate here in the United States," Sven-Erik Spichiger of the Washington state Department of Agriculture said, according to AP. "We may not get them all, but we will get as many as we can."
Scientists are encouraging citizens to begin setting up an orange juice or a brown sugar-based trap in July, The Washington State Department of Agriculture wrote in a statement. Residents in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Island, Jefferson, and Clallam counties are especially encouraged to participate.
While the department and several agencies, including Washington State University, are planning their own eradication efforts, citizen reportings are necessary to cover as much ground as possible. Last year, half of the confirmed reports of the murder hornet in Washington and all confirmed reports in British Columbia were from members of the public, the department wrote.
While the murder hornet, more commonly known as the Asian giant hornet, is rarely deadly, its venom can damage human tissue if stung, CNN reported. "It's an absolutely serious danger to our health and well-being," Paul van Westendorp of the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries told AP. "These are intimidating insects."
The hornets kill at most a few dozen people a year in Asian countries, according to AP. At the same time, hornets, wasps and bees found in the U.S. kill an average of 62 people a year, AP reported.
But the giant insect is not after humans, posing instead a more serious threat to bee populations. Just a small group of Asian giant hornets, for example, can destroy an entire honey bee hive in a few hours, AP reported.
"During one recorded slaughter examined by researchers, each hornet killed one bee every 14 seconds, using powerful mandibles to decapitate its prey," The New York Times reported.
In a state that relies on honey bees to pollinate its multibillion-dollar agricultural industry, beekeepers and entomologists in Washington worry for the future if the murder hornet is able to establish itself in North America.
"Most people are scared to get stung by them," Ruthie Danielsen, a beekeeper in Birch Bay, Washington told The New York Times. "We're scared that they are going to totally destroy our hives."
Additional efforts to eradicate the giant insect include conducting genome sequencing to find out how the Asian giant hornet first arrived in North America and if there are any subpopulations, VICE reported. "Knowing the origin is important to control efforts because it may offer a better understanding of nesting biology and potential range, which varies in native populations," Anna Childers, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told VICE.
Scientists and department workers plan to catch the live hornet, tag it and track it back to its nest to then be destroyed, VICE reported. "So hanging a trap actually protects you. It lets you know that there's something in the area and contains it in such a way that you can then call [authorities in B.C. or Washington] and we can do something about it." Spichiger told VICE.
Washington residents can report all sightings of Asian giant hornets to WSDA at agr.wa.gov/hornets, via email at [email protected], or by calling 1-800-443-6684.
- 'Murder Hornets' Spotted in U.S. for the First Time - EcoWatch ›
- First-Ever 'Murder Hornet' Nest Found in U.S. and Destroyed ... ›
A new study published in Science on Thursday looked at three different data sets that cover the last 40 years of butterfly populations across more than 70 locations in the Western U.S. They found that butterfly populations had fallen by 1.6 percent per year, and that this was linked to warmer weather during the fall.
"That so many of our butterflies are declining is very alarming," Dr. Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist and senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said in response to the findings. "These declines are a wake-up call that we need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gases to save these beautiful and beloved butterflies, as well as our very way of life."
In recent years, scientists have raised the alarm about a worldwide decline in insects. A study published last spring found that the number of land-based insects was falling by about nine percent per decade. However, it has been difficult to tease out the causes of this decline, since factors like land-use change, pesticide use and climate shifts may all contribute, Gizmodo's Earther pointed out.
To investigate the role of climate change, the researchers chose to focus on the Western U.S. because it has seen general warming and drying trends covering a wide variety of ecosystems and land uses. They looked at 450 species in 11 states, from Washington to California to New Mexico to Montana, and compared population data with temperature trends.
They found that butterfly populations actually increased with summer temperatures, probably because the warmth meant more nectar and larval bugs as food for butterflies and caterpillars. However, the warmer autumns caused their populations to fall again, likely because plants cannot survive the extended warmth and the population of predators increases. Because the declines occurred in a variety of ecosystems, including protected areas that are less impacted by pesticides, the researchers thought climate change was to blame.
"Out there, removed from those factors, we see a shifting climate as the main driver of declining butterfly numbers," University of Texas in Reno biologist and lead study author Matthew Forister told Earther in an email.
University of Connecticut ecologist David Wagner, who was not involved with the study, said it was notable because it included protected areas.
"[T]his is one of the first global cases of declines occurring in wildlands, away from densely populated human-dominated landscapes, and the rate of 1.6 percent is calamitous," he told The Washington Post.
Examples of species in decline include the iconic monarch butterfly, the common cabbage white butterfly and the vulnerable Edith's checkerspot. Forister told The Washington Post that both widespread and rare species were impacted.
The findings have important implications for conservation, because they show that simply protecting one habitat is not sufficient in the context of climate change.
"We need a multi-prong approach to conserve insects. This new study adds to the evidence that in addition to habitat protections and pesticide reform, that approach must include swift and bold climate change policy," CBD's Cornelisse said.
- New Clues Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts - EcoWatch ›
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Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It is home to more than 7% of all the world's plant and animal species, many of which are endemic. One such species, the Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee, was recently rediscovered after spending nearly 100 years out of sight from humans.
James B. Dorey, a Ph.D. student at Flinders University, was sampling more than 225 general and 20 targeted sites for research on native bee populations when he identified P. lactiferus among the specimens. Dorey took samples from areas around Queensland and New South Wales, two areas that have seen an increased loss of biodiversity in the past decades. Dorey recently published his findings in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research.
Prior to the study, the last publication on the bee species was recorded in 1923 in Queensland, with very little information on the bee's biology. However, the study in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research indicates that this bee is in need of special attention. Dorey asserts that the species "requires conservation assessment," due to its increasing loss of habitat.
Deforestation seems to be at the top of the list of concerns for P. lactiferus and neighboring species. WWF predicts that between 2015 and 2030, a mere 11 deforestation areas will account for more than 80% of global deforestation. Australia, specifically Queensland and New South Wales where P. laciferus resides, is in those top 11 regions. An alarming 80% of deforestation in Australia happens in the Queensland region, which threatens not only the endemic bee species but other iconic Australian species such as the koala.
However, Dorey cited bushfires as an equally dangerous threat to P. laciferus and other native bee species. Their dependence on the bushland for shelter and food nectar, coupled with habitat fragmentation from deforestation, has made the increasing intensity of Australian bushfires harder to survive. Dorey stated that "GIS analyses... indicate susceptibility of Queensland rainforests and P. lactiferus populations to bushfires, particularly in the context of a fragmented landscape."
Dorey also noted that the 2019 and 2020 bushfire seasons "burnt a greater area than in any year prior," for the habitats in which P. laciferus resides. However, the devastating bushfires of 2019 and 2020 are not only affecting the bees in Queensland, but are also potentially fueling the extinction crisis throughout Australia. University of Sydney ecologist, Chris Dickman, told Huffington Post that an estimated 1 billion species were affected during the wildfires. Compounding research on climate change indicates that the wildfire crisis is global, and P. laciferus might be next on the list of species affected.However, there is hope for this rare bee and the other species facing real threats from the world's extinction crisis. Dorey's work in ecology research, as well as wildlife photography, is helping to fuel wildlife preservation in Australia and beyond. To see more of his work with native Australian bees, click here
Savannah Hasty is an environmental writer with more than six years of experience and has written thousands of articles for clients around the world. Her work focuses on environmental news, lifestyle content, and copywriting for sustainable brands. Savannah lives on the sunny coast of Florida and is inspired by this to play an active role in the preservation of the state's marine life and natural ecosystems.
Tiny Cacao Flowers and Fickle Midges Are Part of a Pollination Puzzle That Limits Chocolate Production
By DeWayne Shoemaker
It's almost impossible to imagine a world without chocolate. Yet cacao trees, which are the source of chocolate, are vulnerable.
I am a passionate chocolate lover and an entomologist who studies cacao pollination. The crop's sustainability currently appears to depend on several species of tiny fly pollinators, who are frankly struggling to get the job done.
Thousands of Flowers
Chocolate is derived from the seeds of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao L., which literally means "food of the gods." The plant originated in the Western Amazon region of South America and has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years in many parts of Central and South America. Today it's grown in equatorial regions around the world, including western Africa and several tropical regions in Asia.
A mature cacao tree can produce many thousands of flowers each year. These flowers are tiny, only a half inch or so in diameter (1-2 cm). The flowers typically grow in clusters directly from the trunk of the tree or off large branches.
Each flower requires pollination to successfully produce a nearly football-sized fruit – a pod containing 30-60 seeds, which can be processed to make chocolate.
It sounds straightforward but, in fact, successful cacao pollination is problematic in many regions. Only around 10% to 20% of the flowers produced by a cacao tree are successfully pollinated. The rest, up to 90%, never receive pollen – or do not receive enough pollen to create fruits.
Scientists don't fully understand cacao pollination, which is surprising given that over 50 million people worldwide currently depend on chocolate for their livelihood.
A Big Job for a Tiny Fly
The insects responsible for pollinating cacao's tiny flowers are, themselves, also tiny, in order to access the flower's reproductive structures. Biting midges from the Ceratopogonidae family and gall midges from the Cecidomyiidae family are among the most important known cacao pollinators worldwide.
The majority of cacao trees are what are known as self-incompatible, meaning they cannot pollinate themselves. Successful pollinators must pick up pollen from the male parts of a flower of one tree and deposit it on the female parts of a flower on another tree.
Cacao flowers are also short-lived, typically receptive to pollen for only one or two days. Flowers that do not receive ample pollen die and fall within 36 hours of opening.
Evidence suggests improving midge habitat can increase fruit yield. So, in some cacao-growing areas, current farming practices include developing and maintaining suitable ground habitat within and near cacao orchards in an effort to increase the number of midges capable of pollen transmission.
The success of artificial or hand pollination, which can more than double yields, shows cacao trees are capable of producing many more pods than they currently do.
It's hard not to wonder: Why aren't midges doing a better job of pollinating cacao flowers? Scientists think part of the answer might be that midges don't solely depend upon cacao flowers for their life cycle. Because they can get sugar from other plant sources, they are likely passive rather than active pollinators of cacao. Scientists also wonder if they are up to the task of flying the significant distances between wild trees.
All of which begs the question: Are there insects better designed for the job? And, if so, where did they go?
Most studies linking midges to cacao pollination were conducted in orchards, while the biology of wild cacao pollination is almost completely unstudied.
One exception is a study that looked at both cultivated and wild cacao in Bolivia. It found that midges represented only 2% of all insect visitors to wild trees. Other flies and tiny wasps were more common there.
These results are intriguing and raise the possibility that one or more unknown insects are the primary pollinators of cacao in the wild. Only additional study of wild cacao may reveal if this is the case. Such information could have far-reaching implications for the chocolate industry.
DeWayne Shoemaker is a professor and the department head of entomology and plant pathology at the University of Tennessee.
Disclosure statement: DeWayne Shoemaker works for the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By Andrea Germanos
Warning that threats including the climate crisis and pesticides are pushing the American bumblebee toward extinction, two conservation groups on Monday urged the Biden administration to give federal protections to the native pollinator.
"We're asking President [Joe] Biden to be the hero that steps up and saves the American bumblebee from extinction," said Jess Tyler, an entomologist and staff scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. "It's unthinkable that we would carelessly allow this fuzzy, black-and-yellow beauty to disappear forever."
To stave off that scenario, Tyler's group joined the Bombus Pollinator Association of Law Students of Albany Law School in urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the American bumblebee as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Keith Hirokawa, a professor of law at Albany Law School, called it "unfortunate that we're forced to call upon the Endangered Species Act to protect a species so fundamental to human and ecosystem health."
"It is our hope," said Hirokawa, "that the Biden administration grasps the gravity of this moment."
The groups' 72-page petition [pdf] to the agency describes the gravity in clear terms, pointing in part to how the species — referring to the pollinators known as both Bombus pensylvanicus and Bombus sonorous — have gone from being once common and dominant to suffering a "devastating loss" of abundance. From the filing:
Once the most commonly observed bumblebee in the United States, the American bumblebee has declined by 89% in relative abundance and continues to decline toward extinction due to the disastrous, synergistic impacts of threats including habitat loss, pesticides, disease, climate change, competition with honey bees, and loss of genetic diversity. In the last 20 years, the American bumblebee has vanished from at least eight states, mostly in the Northeast, and it is in precipitous decline in many more. For example, in New York it has suffered a catastrophic decline of 99% in relative abundance, and in Illinois it has disappeared from the northern part of the state and is down 74% since 2004. In sum, the American bumblebee has become very rare or possibly extripated [sic] from 16 states in the Northeast and Northwest; it has experienced declines of over 90% in the upper Midwest; and 19 other states in the Southeast and Midwest have seen declines of over 50%.
Bolstering the groups' argument for ESA protections is international recognition of the American bumble's plight, with the petition citing as an example the IUCN's "vulnerable" classification. Further, the groups add, "The American bumblebee has not been protected under any state endangered species statute."
Simply put, the species "urgently needs the protections that only ESA listing can provide. Without these necessary protections, the American bumblebee will continue to precipitously decline," the groups wrote.
According to the center's Tyler, while the situation for the bee is grim, there is hope.
"There's no question that human activities have pushed this bee toward extinction, so we have the ability to wake up, reverse course, and save it," said Tyler.
"But this late in the game," he added, "it's going to take the powerful tools provided only by the Endangered Species Act to get the job done. Anything short of that and we risk losing this iconic part of the American landscape forever."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Daniel Raichel
Industry would have us believe that pesticides help sustain food production — a necessary chemical trade-off for keeping harmful bugs at bay and ensuring we have enough to eat. But the data often tell a different story—particularly in the case of neonicotinoid pesticides, also known as neonics.
Despite being the most widely used family of pesticides in the United States, research has shown that the largest uses of these neurotoxic chemicals do little to nothing to help crop yields or farmers' bottom lines.
If we look closer, it's easy to see why: The vast majority of neonics are applied as coatings on seeds for crops like corn, soybean, and wheat — where they are most often used indiscriminately, rather than in response to specific pest problems. For many conventional seed varieties, farmers have no choice but to buy neonics-treated seeds, thanks to the near monopolies enjoyed by agrochemical giants, which manufacture both the seeds and the pesticides.
The result? Tens to hundreds of millions of acres are needlessly sown with bee-toxic seeds. And while these wasteful practices may spell good news for the profit margins of chemical manufacturers — to the tune of more than $3 billion per year — they are catastrophic news for the surrounding ecosystems.
That's because neonics are pervasive ecosystem contaminants. When coated on seeds, they're absorbed "systemically" as plants grow — up through the roots and into the nectar, pollen, and fruit itself — which then get eaten by other wildlife. What doesn't make it into the plant (usually more than 95 percent of the toxic seed coating) leaches out into the soil, where it can travel long distances, carried by rain and agricultural runoff into new soil, plants, and water supplies. Once in the ground, neonics are long-lived — building up in the soil over time and continuing to harm or kill bugs and other wildlife for years after application.
Unsurprisingly, our agricultural system is now 48 times more harmful to insect life than it was just two decades ago, with neonics accounting for more than 90 percent of that increase. That's why it's also no surprise that neonics have been recognized as a primary cause of the massive losses of U.S. honey bee colonies every year — the unfortunate new normal. Neonics are also linked to mass die-offs of native bees, birds, fish, and harm to other important insects and earthworms, which keep our soil healthy and nutrient-dense.
This contamination poses a clear ecological crisis but it's also a crisis for how we eat.
In a recent study out of Rutgers University, researchers looked at seven different crops in 131 commercially managed fields across North America to see how many crops were "pollinator-limited" — i.e., crops whose yields would be higher were there more pollinators.
Distressingly, five out of every seven crops they analyzed were pollinator-limited — including favorites like apples, cherries, and blueberries. "Honeybee colonies are weaker than they used to be and wild bees are declining, probably by a lot," said the paper's senior author, Rachael Winfree. "Fewer bees, in turn, mean less food, and more pressure on struggling honeybee populations to replace pollination from native bees."
As Winfree notes, this reliance on a single species is risky, "setting us up for food security problems." Worse yet, the study shows the likely impact of neonics on our food supply isn't decades away; it's already happening right now.
For the present, industries can use stopgap solutions—like breeding and shipping out more honeybees to make up for lost colonies — but these strategies may ultimately fail if we don't address the source of the vast and wasteful neonic contamination.
Looking into the future, low yields may mean that some of our favorite foods become far pricier or unavailable entirely — an outcome with high human and economic costs.
In the United States, the production of crops that rely on pollination is valued at more than $50 billion annually. Indeed, one in every three bites of food is reliant on pollinators. Food workers — an umbrella term for a behemoth industry that includes everyone from farm workers to restaurant cooks and servers to grocery store clerks — could experience increased job disruptions, too, should the markets for these foods become upended.
Recently, a group of local New York chefs — recognizing their reliance on bees and an abundant and diverse food supply to keep restaurants open, workers employed, and their food healthy and delicious—asked state legislators to rein in wasteful neonic use statewide.
Faced with rising food costs, more families may also struggle to put food on the table. Already, more than 10.5 percent of all U.S. families — or more than 35 million Americans — experienced food insecurity at some point in 2019. During the COVID-19 crisis, that number has ballooned. For those unsure where their next meal may come from, even moderate increases in food costs are felt acutely. Potentially significant changes to food costs or availability — particularly for our most nutrient-dense produce — would likely hit low-income families hardest.
The stakes are high, but the solution is simple: We must rein in needless neonic use that threatens our food supply and contaminates our land and water on a vast scale.
In the same turn, we must also support regenerative agriculture practices, which eliminate the need for synthetic pesticides like neonics. A more just and sustainable food system that protects workers, consumers, and the wild world also protects our food security — it's what we need and it's within reach.
Daniel Raichel is a staff attorney and a member of the Lands & Wildlife program, focusing on protecting our nation's bee populations from the ever-growing threats to their health and existence—in particular, the use of bee-toxic pesticides. Before joining the Wildlife team, Raichel was codirector of NRDC's Community Fracking Defense Project and an advocate for the cleanup of industrial pollution in the New York region. Prior to that, he was a member of the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic. Raichel holds a bachelor's degree in English from Cornell University and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. He works out of the Chicago office.
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In 2018, the EU widened a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides because of their impact on bees and other pollinators. At the time, the UK government pledged to keep the ban in place after leaving the EU, The Guardian pointed out. But on Friday, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) approved the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam for emergency use on sugar beets in 2021.
The decision was made in response to requests from the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and British Sugar to give sugar beets extra protection from a virus causing an ailment called virus yellows disease, The Guardian explained.
"Virus yellows disease is having an unprecedented impact on Britain's sugar beet crop, with some growers experiencing yield losses of up to 80%, and this authorisation is desperately needed to fight this disease. It will be crucial in ensuring that Britain's sugar beet growers continue to have viable farm businesses," NFU chairman Michael Sly told The Guardian.
Other countries still currently in the EU have also allowed emergency use of the product, including Belgium, Denmark and Spain.
But environmental advocates argue that any use of the pesticide is too risky at a time when insect populations are in peril. A 2020 study found that land-based insects had declined 50 percent in the last 75 years. The UK alone lost a third of its bees in the last decade, according to The Independent. The decline of UK bees since 2007 coincided with the introduction of thiamethoxam, according to The Guardian. Studies have shown that the pesticide can weaken bees' immune systems and harm the brains of young bees, making it harder for them to fly.
"Insects perform vital roles such as pollination of crops and wildflowers, and nutrient recycling, but so many have suffered drastic declines. Evidence suggests we've lost at least 50% of insects since 1970, and 41% of all insect species are now 'threatened with extinction'", the Wildlife Trust said in a Twitter thread responding to the news.
Bad news for bees: The Government has bowed to pressure from the National Farmers Union to agree the use of a highl… https://t.co/W8k7Tl9p4J— The Wildlife Trusts (@The Wildlife Trusts)1610127990.0
Other outraged citizens launched a petition calling on the government to reverse its decision.
"This pesticide is lethal to bees and other pollinators which our environment desperately needs to pollinate flora and fauna. Bees pollinate up to 3/4 of crops which makes the use of this pesticide incredibly counter-intuitive," the petition stated.
The petition earned signatures from celebrities including comedienne Sue Perkins, The London Economic noted.
2017: ‘The principal public good we will invest in is environmental enhancement.” Gove 2020: Introducing banned pe… https://t.co/uUS9Cz3feo— Sue Perkins 💙 (@Sue Perkins 💙)1610275182.0
In its statement, Buglife said it was especially concerned about a provision allowing farmers to destroy wildflowers around the beets and a lack of information about plans to keep the pesticide from polluting rivers. It noted that a similar application for emergency use was denied in 2018 due to its potential impacts on bees.
"Nothing has changed scientifically since the decision to ban neonics from use on sugar beet in 2018, they are still going to harm the environment," Shardlow said.
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Now that the campaign season is over, what do we do with all those political yard signs? Trash them? Keep them for memories' sake? Florida beekeeper Alma Johnson has a better idea: donate them to help keep her honeybee hives warm.
"I saw the politician signs and I said, 'What a great opportunity,'" Johnson told Fox 13. "I'd rather use those than having to go buy corrugated plastic from Home Depot and add more to the landfill too."
The apiarist, who owns Sarasota Honey Company, upcycles corrugated plastic signs to keep hives at their ideal constant 98 degree temperature, reported Sarasota Magazine. Signs placed at the base of beehives help with ventilation, control humidity, and act as a shield against cool night drafts that can chill the queen bee and babies.
Unlike a solid wood board, corrugated plastic also prevents fungal infections, Johnson told the magazine.
Foam boards also don't upcycle for bees well because it's the spaces in the plastic signs that provide the best, chemical-free pest protection, she told Fox 13. Johnson cuts the plastic signs into squares and seals the bottom on one side. The little corrugated holes are filled with oil and apple cider vinegar to act as a natural trap for pests that threaten the bees like hive killing beetles and mites, the bee keeper explained.
"They don't care if it's a Trump sign or a Biden sign. They hold no loyalty to any party," she joked to Fox 13.
The Sarasota Honey Company plans to distribute the campaign signs to other neighboring beekeepers to help keep their bees safe as well, ABC 7 reported. Other bee farms in the Tampa Bay area are mimicking Johnson's idea and collecting and distributing political signs through local beekeepers associations, reported CL Tampa.
"It is a way of bringing people together and guess what, the byproduct of that coming together is a sweet life, honey," said Johnson, reported WFLA reported.
In St. Louis, MO, a recycling working group is tackling the plastic pollution problem in a different way. They are encouraging people to recycle corrugated political signs as well as yard signs used to congratulate graduates, St. Louis Public Radio reported.
"We don't want to send that stuff to a landfill if there's still useful life remaining in a material," recycling group member Jean Ponzi told the Public Radio.
The group has coordinated efforts because current recycling systems are not equipped to handle the material even though it is valuable to recyclers, she said in the report.
In Grand Rapids, MI, the local democratic party office collected signs for local candidates in case they want to reuse them to run again, reported ABC 13. Recycle by City: Chicago suggested a few alternative uses such as painting over them for personalized celebratory signs and upcycling them into durable storage options because no local recycler would take the signs.
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