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Science Trumps Politics: Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Officially an Endangered Species

By Daniel Raichel

There are times—even today—when law and science triumph over politics.

Hard to believe, I know, but that's exactly what happened this week when the Trump administration backed away from its "freeze" on listing the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species.

The rusty patched bumble bee is the first bumble bee to receive endangered species protections and for good reason. Although common across the Midwest and the East Coast as recently as the mid-90s, since then, the bee's population has plummeted by about 90 percent.

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This City Just Set Aside 1,000 Acres to Save Honey Bees

By Julie M. Rodriguez

It's no secret that bee populations have declined in recent years. Last year, beekeepers across the U.S. reported losing a staggering 44 percent of their colonies over the course of the winter and summer.

The causes of bee decline vary—exposure to a variety of pesticides, fungus, parasites and rising temperatures being just some of the potential issues—but there's only one really effective way to fight back against the problem. Bees need open spaces to roam and collect pollen without being disturbed.

One city in Iowa has decided to do just that, in a major way: Cedar Rapids is planning to set aside 1,000 acres of bee-friendly open space. (Eventually, it's hoped, the project may expand to as many as 10,000 acres). This spring, they'll start by seeding a modest 188 acres with native prairie grasses and wildflowers, plants that will both nourish pollinators and prevent invasive weeds from spreading. So far, the initiative has secured $180,000 in funding from the state and the Monarch Research Project, an organization dedicated to restoring monarch butterfly populations and pollinator habitats.

Cedar Rapids isn't going to convert land used for other purposes for the project. Instead, they're simply repurposes public lands that are currently going unused, seeding them with 39 species of native wildflowers and seven species of native grass. The flowers will serve as an attractor for bees and butterflies, while the grasses will keep noxious weeds from invading the area. Some of the spaces that are being used for the initiative include far-off corners of public parks, golf courses, open areas near the local airport, sewage ditches, water retention basins and green space along roadways.

The project was proposed by Daniel Gibbons, the park superintendent of Cedar Rapids. According to Gibbons, over the past 100 years, Iowa's agriculture boom has resulted a loss of 99.9 percent of the state's native habitats. Converting these unused public areas back to their original state will do more than simply help bees—it's also going to help birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals who rely on native vegetation.

Converting these spaces back to native prairie isn't going to be a simple process. Right now, many of them are choked with undesirable vegetation that isn't bee-friendly. The invasive plants present in these areas need to be mowed down, burned and in some cases hit with doses of herbicide before the native seed mixture can be planted.

You Can Replicate The Cedar Rapids Experiment In Your Own Backyard

Most of us don't have 1,000 acres of unused space lying around, but if you want to do your part to help bees in the same way as Cedar Rapids, there's plenty you can do. If you have a garden or a place to leave outdoor planters, just a few square feet of wildflowers native to your area can help boost local bee populations. In Popular Science, pollination ecologist Stephen Buchmann suggests planting a diverse mix of wildflowers and heirloom crops that bloom in the spring, summer and fall.

If you do plant a pollinator garden, it's best not to use any herbicides or insecticides at all, as these are known to correlate with poor health in honey bees. If you must use these products, do it at night when bees are inactive.

Of course, simply providing a food source for bees does no good if they have no place to rest at the end of the day. You can also create nesting sites for native bees, if you can stomach the idea of a hive on your property. The Xerces society has compiled a helpful guide with information on how to provide nesting sites that allow bees to thrive. In many ways, the approach you'll need to take depends on the species of bees that live in your area—some prefer to nest in hollow wood, while others dig their nests in the dirt.

If we all make a small effort to create bee-friendly spaces, it's completely possible to replicate Cedar Rapids' experiment collectively in our own communities.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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A radio-controlled flying robot equipped with animal hairs coated with a liquid gel pollinates a flower. Photo credit: Eijiro Miyak

Can a Drone Do the Work of Honeybees?

By Marlene Cimons

Ten years ago, Japanese chemist Eijiro Miyako was trying to invent a liquid that could work as an electrical conductor. But the sticky gel he created failed, so he shoved it into a cabinet in an uncapped bottle and forgot about it. Recently, during a lab cleanup, it was rediscovered—with the viscous stuff unchanged.

Motivated by concerns about climate change and the impact it was having on natural pollinators, especially bees and other insects, Miyako wondered whether the material he had made, still good after a decade, could pick up pollen. Ultimately, he jury-rigged a tiny, insect-sized remote-controlled drone that could carry his substance and use it to pick up and deposit pollen grains.

The artificial pollinator brushes a lily.Eijiro Miyak

"I think climate change is one of the terrible problems affecting our natural pollinators," he said. "Our technology and artificial pollinators could be hopefully promising for giving us a good solution against the pollination crisis for our beautiful planet."

Globally, an estimated 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices and medicines must be pollinated by animals, including apples, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds and tequila, according to Pollinator Partnership. Pollination by honeybees, native bees and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually in the U.S., according to the group.

But pollinators have been in trouble in recent years, suffering from habitat loss, chemicals misuse, diseases and parasites, among other hazards. As a result, the nation has lost more than half of its managed honeybee colonies in the last ten years. Research has shown that the effects of global warming are shrinking the geographic home range of North American and European bumblebees, with the insects unable to adapt to the changing conditions.

Before tackling the honeybee problem, Miyako experimented with houseflies and ants.

He put the goop on the ants' bodies and let them wander inside a box of tulips. Compared with the insects that didn't have the gel on them, those that did were much more likely to have pollen attached.

Artificial pollinator top (left) and bottom (right).Eijiro Miya

Still, to devise an effective artificial pollinator, he needed some kind of flying machine to transport the pollen. He found an insect-sized, remote-controlled four-propeller drone, worth about $100 and attached horse hair to it in order to mimic the fuzzy exterior of a bee.

He and his research colleagues then slathered the gel onto the horse hair bristles so the pollen would stick to it. Furthermore, the horse hair generates an electric charge that keeps the grains in place.

They flew the little drones—with hair and gel attached—over the flowers of pink-leaved Japanese lilies. The little flyers picked up pollen and the researchers guided them to other flowers, where they deposited the grains, artificially pollinating the plants.

The artificial pollinator brushes a lily.Eijiro Miyak

He and his colleagues believe that robotic pollinators ultimately could learn pollination paths via GPS systems and artificial intelligence.

Nevertheless, Miyako acknowledges that much work remains before the tiny drones will have widespread application in agriculture, including improving how the small machines drop the pollen. Once stuck, the grains require some kind of additional physical force to release them.

Thus far, "desorption of pollens possibly happened by hitting materials with piled up pollens onto female flowers," he said. "Indeed, we have never characterized what kind of forces were actually effected on them. That is a future challenge, to improve the performance for dropping off pollens on our desired plant."

Miyako, a senior researcher with the Nanomaterials Research Institute of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Ibaraki, Japan, described his work in a study published in the journal Chem.

A radio-controlled flying robot equipped with animal hairs coated with a liquid gel pollinates a flower.Eijiro Miyak

He and his colleagues are the latest in a long history of those who have tried to find ways to help nature with pollination, efforts that go back thousands of years, at least to 2000 BC, when humans pollinated date palms by hand. More recently, people have hand-pollinated tomato flowers in greenhouses and, in some parts of China, apple trees in the absence of native pollinators.

Still, despite the urgency posed by climate change and other threats to insect pollinators, some experts believe artificial methods would be less effective and economically feasible to preserve bee populations. And they worry that attention and resources directed toward artificial pollination technology could discourage efforts to address the impact of global warming on natural pollinators.

"Fortunately, in most cases around the world, the ecosystem service of pollination is provided for free by native insects, so there has been no need to rely on artificial pollination," said David Inouye, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Maryland, who studies pollination biology and who was not involved in the study. "The new technology is interesting, but it's likely less expensive to take measures to encourage native pollinators than it will be to use drones."

Berry J. Brosi, associate professor in the department of environmental services at Emory University, who also was not involved in the research, agrees. "There is the possibility that such technology would reduce the incentives for pollinator conservation," he said.

Also, mechanical replacement of pollinators, while feasible at small scales, is very unlikely to be economically possible at the levels needed for crop pollination, Brosi said. "Japanese lilies, the plant species that was used for the proof-of-concept of this technology, have very large and showy flowers, in stark contrast to most crops," he said.

A bee pollinates a canola flower. Pixabay

For example, canola, an economically important pollinator-dependent crop, has very small blooms clustered on thin stalks that grow very close together in commercial canola fields, he said. "Current technology for mechanical pollination would have to advance tremendously in a number of dimensions to allow for this much more challenging application," Brosi said.

Moreover, he adds, replacing living pollinators with mechanical alternatives could produce societal inequities. "Research has shown that pollinator declines are likely to be associated with nutritional deficits in the developing world among smallholders, exactly the population that would almost certainly be unable to afford such technology," he said.

Beyond their role in crops, insects also pollinate more than 90 percent of wild flowering plants and trees, which in turn provide a range of ecosystem services that people depend upon, "including production of oxygen, water and air purification, prevention of erosion and scenic beauty among many others," Brosi said. "Creating a pollinator habitat within or adjacent to crop fields, can provide many other benefits, including providing habitat for natural enemies of crop pests, carbon sequestration, erosion control and support of plant and other biodiversity."

The Japanese researchers acknowledge these shortcomings and the obstacles ahead. Nevertheless they hope their continued research will be valuable, even if only to reduce the pressure put on bee populations by commercialization and other stressors.

With help from artificial pollinators, honeybees, for example, might be better able to do one thing the robots can't—make honey—while drones do the pollinating. Hopefully, the little robots can "help counter the problems caused by declining honeybee populations," Miyako said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

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The Xerces Society/Sarina Jepsen

It's Official: First Bumble Bee Species Listed as Endangered in 'Race Against Extinction'

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has declared the rusty patched bumble bee an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). This is the first-ever bumble bee in the U.S., and the first wild bee of any kind in the contiguous 48 states, to receive ESA protection.

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Shocking Number of Top Retailers Sell Food Produced With Pesticides Toxic to Bees

A new report and scorecard grades 20 of the largest food retailers in the U.S on their policies and practices regarding pollinator protection, organic offerings and pesticide reduction.

Of the top food retailers, 17 received an "F" for failing to have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use to protect pollinators. Only Aldi, Costco and Whole Foods received passing grades in this category.

Four of the top food retailers—Albertsons, Costco, Target and Whole Foods—have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.Friends of the Earth

"U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis," said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth. "The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. We urge all major retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and to expand domestic organic offerings that protect pollinators, people and the planet."

Today's report, Swarming the Aisles: Rating Top Retailers on Bee-Friendly and Organic Food, comes amid mounting consumer pressure on food retailers to adopt more environmentally-friendly sourcing policies.

A coalition led by Friends of the Earth and more than 50 farmer, beekeeper, farmworker, environmental and public interest organizations sent a letter urging the food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and increase the U.S. Department of Agriculture certified organic food and beverages to 15 percent of overall offerings by 2025, prioritizing domestic, regional and local producers. This effort follows a campaign by Friends of the Earth and allies that convinced more than 65 garden retailers, including Lowe's and Home Depot, to commit to eliminate bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bees and other pollinators are essential for one in three bites of food we eat and without them grocery stores would run short of strawberries, almonds, apples, broccoli and more. A growing body of science points to the world's most widely-used insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a leading factor in pollinator declines and glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide worldwide, as a key culprit in monarch butterfly declines.

New data from a YouGov Poll released today by Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs found that 80 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate neonicotinoids from agriculture. Among Americans who grocery shop for their household, 65 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids. The poll also revealed that 59 percent of American grocery shoppers believe it is important for grocery stores to sell organic food and 43 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store. The full poll results are available on request.

"Over 750,000 SumOfUs members have spoken out advocating that U.S. Hardware stores take action to protect our pollinators. And after years of pressure, Home Depot and Lowe's have finally enacted more bee-friendly policies," said Angus Wong, lead campaign strategist at SumOfUs, a consumer watchdog with ten million members. "And the findings of this poll show that a vast majority of consumers want to eliminate neonicotinoids from their grocery stores too. This is why food retailers must commit policies that protect our bees immediately."

The report found that while consumer demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues to show double-digit growth, only four of the top food retailers—Albertsons, Costco, Target and Whole Foods—have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales. In addition to these retailers, Aldi, Food Lion, part of the Delhaize Group and Kroger disclosed data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales. None of the retailers have made a publicly available commitment to source organic from American farmers.

"To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture," said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. "Organic farms support 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production—farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic."

Sixteen of the top 20 food retailers were predominately unresponsive to Friends of the Earth's requests for information via surveys, calls and letters. Primary sources of information for this scorecard include publicly available information, including company websites, company annual reports, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage and industry analyses.

World's First Urban Bee Highway Helps Save Pollinators


By Tasnim Abdi

In 2015, ByBi, an environmental group based in Oslo, Norway, designed the world's first urban bee highway—a route filled with green roofs and flowers—that supports bees living in city environments.

ByBi

One-third of Norway's 200 wild bee species are endangered. The bee highway works with businesses, schools, organizations and individuals residing in Oslo to build bee-friendly feeding stations and accommodations. The purpose of the project is to connect the green zones in the urban environment, which include flower beds, plant corridors and green roofs. People are encouraged to plant nectar-bearing flowers for bees around the city.

A website was created to let individuals share information on how they want to contribute to the project. The participants, including companies, governmental agencies and individuals, can write about where they are planting flowers, for example. The website also shows the route in which the bees take to travel in Oslo.

Pollinator Passasjen

According to ByBi, there are also "gray areas" where there are no sources of food for the bees. Individuals are encouraged to plant flowers in these areas.

"We are constantly reshaping our environment to meet our needs, forgetting that other species also live in it," the head of ByBi, Agnes Lyche Melvaer, said.

Melvaer also suggests that it is important to return places to the bees where they find food and live. For example, a garden called Abel's Garden was initially only covered in grass and it was later converted into a "feeding station" filled with flowers.

The bee highway is the first system of its kind designed to provide an environment where bees can travel through a city.

In the middle of Oslo's business district, an accountant firm is planting Sedum plants and two bee hives on its terrace. The bee hives can accommodate around 45,000 worker bees. Marie Skjelbred, an accountant at PwC Norway, spearheaded the project at the firm. Skjelbred convinced her employer to work with the owners of the building to finance the project.

"One should see it as a sign that companies are also taking responsibility for preserving biodiversity," Marie Skjelbred, an amateur beekeeper, said.

Skjelbred also explains that one bee produces a spoon of honey. "If we did their job, paid at the minimum wage, a pot of honey would cost US$182,000," Skjelbred, after calculating the costs, said.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, bees are responsible for around 35 percent of food production.

It is estimated that 35 percent of food production is dependent on pollination from bees.iStock

Christian Steel at the Norwegian Biodiversity Network, an organization working with amateur and professional biologists in Norway, explains that the bee highway project can help protect bees. He also criticizes the short-term solutions of the Norwegian government.

"The government seems to hide behind these kinds of private initiatives, while pursuing in parallel a policy of promoting intensive agriculture which leads to the death of many bees," Christian Steel said.

Steel also explains that there is a mutual dependence between humans and bees. "Agriculture is completely dependent on pollinators to maintain food production just as insects are dependent on diverse agriculture to survive," he said.

This initiative highlights the challenges involving protecting bees around the world.

Agnes Lyche Melvaer, the head of ByBi, explains that she is optimistic. She suggests that there is the "butterfly effect."

"If we manage to solve a global problem locally, it's conceivable that this local solution will work elsewhere, too," Agnes Lyche Melvaer said.

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