Quantcast

Vicious Cycle Links Loss of Pollinators to Diminishing Grasslands

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Andrew Wetzler

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Two different very different studies were released this week. But if you look at them together, they paint a potentially alarming picture for both pollinators—like bees and butterflies—and the native grasslands and prairies they depend on.

In the first study, the European Environment Agency presented the results from two decades of monitoring butterfly populations across Europe. They show that, “compared to 1990, the European populations of the 17 indicator species have declined by, on average, almost 50 percent”

The report lays the blame for this decline at the feet of intensifying agricultural activities on easy to cultivate land and the abandonment of cultivated grasslands, used for livestock grazing and growing hay, on marginal lands. Both activities end up destroying butterfly habitat, either through the creation of monocultures and the use of pesticides or the reversion of habitat to scrub and forest.

But what if the decline of butterflies also causes the decline of grasslands?

That’s the implication of a different study, conducted in Colorado, where scientist looked at the reproductive success of plants on plots of land in subalpine meadows containing 10 species of native bumblebees. Then they removed one of those species. Computer models had suggested that “plant communities will be resilient to losing many or even most of the pollinator species in an ecosystem” as the remaining bees take up the slack.

But that’s not what scientists found at all. Instead they reported that removing even a single bee species reduced wildflower seed production a third. Why? Because competition decreased, bees stopped specializing in “their” flower and began moving more between different species of flowers which, if you happen to be a flower, does you no good whatsoever. This decline of “floral fidelity” was dramatic—78 percent—and resulted in lower reproductive success by the plants.

Does the same mechanism come into play for butterflies? I don’t know. The studies were of different species, in different ecosystems, and on different continents. But butterflies, like bees, are important pollinators of flowering plants so I don’t think that possibility can be dismissed. The result would be a potentially vicious cycle: plant decline begetting pollinator decline which, in turn, causes further plant decline. At the very least, both studies shine a harsh light on decline of animals that we take for granted at our peril.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

——–

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Protesters gathered outside US Bank and Wells Fargo locations around the U.S. to protest investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline on Dec. 1, 2016. This photo is from a protest outside US Bank in south Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Jake Johnson

As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.


Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

DESIREE MARTIN / AFP / Getty Images

Wildfires raging on Gran Canaria, the second most populous of Spain's Canary Islands, have forced around 9,000 people to evacuate.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Wolves in Mount Rainier, Washington. Ron Reznick / VW Pics / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The last four members of an embattled wolf pack were killed in Washington State Friday, hours before the court order that could have saved them.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
Plateau Creek near De Beque, Colorado, where land has been leased for oil and gas production. Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post / Getty Images

By Randi Spivak

Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Global SO2 Emission Hotspot Database / Greenpeace

A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.

Read More Show Less
The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about donations to the Amazon Fund. LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images

By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Read More Show Less
Gina Lopez, the Philippine secretary of the environment, at a meeting with residents affected by a mine tailing disaster. Keith Schneider

Gina Lopez, a former Philippine environment secretary, philanthropist and eco-warrior, died on Aug. 19 from brain cancer. She was 65.

Read More Show Less