Humble pollinators – little keys to life on earth
Jul06

Humble pollinators – little keys to life on earth

This year, we learned a lot about pollinators, especially native bees, bumble bees and honey bees at the 2015 SEEDS Leadership Meeting in North End, Md.

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ESA Policy News April 15: California orders new water restrictions, EPA moves to protect pollinators, NOAA initiates algal bloom ‘early warning system’
Apr15

ESA Policy News April 15: California orders new water restrictions, EPA moves to protect pollinators, NOAA initiates algal bloom ‘early warning system’

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.    DROUGHT: CALIFORNIA ORDERS MANDATORY CUTS IN WATER USAGE On April 1, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a landmark executive order requiring state residents to cut their water usage by 25 percent through February 28, 2016. The first-ever water restrictions target watering on lawns, campuses, cemeteries and golf courses. The order also instructs the California Energy Commission to pass appliance efficiency standards for toilets, faucets, urinals and other appliances resulting in saving 10 billion gallons of water in the first year. It also directs the State Water Resources Control Board to develop rate structures and other pricing mechanisms to discourage overuse. On April 9, the California Energy Commission adopted new efficiency standards for water-using appliances. The emergency situation allowed the Commission to prohibit the sale and installation of certain toilets, urinals and faucets that do not meet minimum water efficiency requirements as of Jan. 1, 2016, regardless of the manufactured date. Click here to view the full executive order announcement. Click here to view the California Energy Commission announcement. EPA: LETTERS SEEK TO CURB USAGE OF PESTICIDE HARMFUL TO POLLINATORS The US Environmental Protection Agency issued correspondence notifying manufacturers of neonicotinoid pesticides for outdoor use that applications to the agency seeking approval for usage may not be approved until risk assessments to pollinators are complete. The agency asks manufacturers with pending registrations for outdoor use of neonicotinoid pesticides to withdraw or change any references to using the product outdoors by April 30. Click here for more information. EUROPEAN ACADEMIES: NEONICOTINOIDS STUDY RELEASED On April 8, the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) published its latest study on neonicotinoids and their effects on ecosystem services. It concludes that widespread preventive use of neonicotinoids has adverse effects on non-target organisms that provide ecosystem services such as pollination and natural pest control, as well as on biodiversity. David Inouye, ESA president offered his insight on the report. “The effects on pollinators (other than honey bees and bumble bees) and organisms that contribute to natural pest control and soil functioning have rarely been addressed in research so far, but acute lethal or sub-lethal effects have been observed on several natural pest control species such as insects and birds, and soil dwelling species such as earthworms. Thus neonicotinoids appear to have many of the same detrimental features that previous generations of pesticides, starting with DDT, have ultimately been found to have.” Click here for more information. EPA: CLEAN WATER RULE SENT TO WHITE HOUSE FOR FINAL REVIEW On April 6, the US Environmental Protection Agency and...

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For bees (and flowers), tongue size matters
Jul15

For bees (and flowers), tongue size matters

When it comes to bee tongues, length is proportional to the size of the bee, but heritage sets the proportion. Estimating this hard to measure trait helps scientists understand bee species’ resiliency to change. Ecologists will report on this and other pollination research news at the Ecological Society of America’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Sacramento, Cal., August 10-15.   For bees and the flowers they pollinate, a compatible tongue length is essential to a successful relationship. Some bees and plants are very closely matched, with bee tongue sized to the flower depth. Other bee species are generalists, flitting among flower species to drink nectar and collect pollen from a diverse variety of plants. Data on tongue lengths can help ecologists understand and predict the behavior, resilience and invasiveness of bee populations. But bee tongues are hard to measure. The scarcity of reliable lingual datasets has held back research, so Ignasi Bartomeus of the Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC) in Sevilla, Spain, and his colleagues at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, N.J.) looked for a more easily measured proxy, like body size. Bee tongues are proportional to body size, but modulated by family adaptations—bee families typically have characteristic tongue shapes and proportions. The research group came up with an equation to predict tongue length from a combination of body size and taxonomic relationships. Bartomeus will explain the equation and the usefulness of tongue length data for ecology at the 99th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Sacramento, Cal., this August during the “Pollination I” oral session on Thursday afternoon, August 14. The meeting lasts five days and draws roughly 3,500 environmental scientists from around the world. A bee collects pollen on its body as it laps sugar-rich nectar from within the cupped interior of the flower’s petals, and carries the flower’s genetic heritage away with it to fertilize the next flower of the same species that it visits. In most species, the bee’s tongue is guarded by a long, two-sided, beak of a sheath, which folds under the body when the bee flies. Perched at the mouth of a flower, the bee unfolds the beaky maxilla and extends its tongue into the corolla of the flower, dipping and retracting it to lap up the nectar. If its tongue is too short to reach the nectar, the bee has a problem. Long flowers like honeysuckle or columbine are too deep for short-tongued bees. But longer isn’t always better; long tongues are harder to wrangle into short flowers. Long-tongued bees are often specialists, favoring a few deep-throated flower species. In the bumblebee-sparse southern tip of Argentina, for example, Bombus dahlbomii,...

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Crocodile tears please butterflies and bees
May02

Crocodile tears please butterflies and bees

A Julia butterfly (Dryas iulia) and a solitary bee (Centris sp.) sip tears from the eyes of spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) on Costa Rica’s Puerto Viejo River. Credit, Carlos de la Rosa

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Social immunity of bees

by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer A honey bee (Apis mellifera) afflicted with Varroa destructor, a parasitic mite that sucks away its vital, blood-like hemolymph, often passing along viruses in the process, and leaving open wounds. The mite spreads by bee-to-bee contact, accelerated by yearly circuits of agricultural bee broods transported to pollinate almonds and blueberries and other crops. Varroa is a suspect in the still mysterious and ongoing bee disappearance known as colony collapse disorder. But mitocides are suspect as well. Credit, Stephen Ausmus, USDA. FOOD maven Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of the American Public Media radio show The Splendid Table, talked honey bees with entomologist Marla Spivek in a long segment for her May 12th show. Spivak takes her host outside the studio and into the apiary to look inside the secrets of the hive. Over a hum of wings, they talk about the daily activities of male drones, female worker bees, nurse bees, larvae, and the queen – laying her thousand eggs a day. Spivak is a 2010 MacArthur Fellow and Distinguished McKnight Professor in Entomology at the University of Minnesota, where she runs her Bee Lab. In 2006, an abrupt bee population crash began and spread around the world. Bee populations have been diminishing since WWII, Spivak says, in concert with the vast agricultural changes of the last century, but why the current crisis set in with such suddenness is a mystery. An alarming, expensive mystery. Bees pollinate a third of our fruits and vegetables. We have developed an ag system that depends for fertility on the specific ministrations of Apis mellifera – an old world bee that migrated to the Americas (and Australia and New Zealand) with Europeans and European agriculture.  Farmers contract with apiarists to bring hives to their orchards and fields seasonally. Some hives have extended tours. All this migratory labor can be hard on bees. Spivak says colony collapse disorder is most likely the result of a potpourri of deadly influences: the stresses of travel, viral infections, parasite infestations, and pesticides. Researchers are looking for a new disease or new pesticide that might be the kicker on the evil brew. In happier news, public consciousness of bees has jumped since the collapse, with a surge in interest in beekeeping and bee-friendly landscaping. Spivak’s lab investigates  bees’ natural defenses, bee pathogens, and landscape effects on bees and other pollinators, and is working on breeding resistance into their bees. Spivak says bees cope with infection in the hive by “sniffing out larvae when they’re sick” and tossing the sick out of the colony. Bee biologists have recently begun thinking of this “social immunity” as...

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Low oil concentrations impact Gulf fish, Jellyfishes’ rising ecosystem status and the importance of bees

Miniscule oil amounts, major biological ramifications for fish: Trace amounts of oil from a spill can have harmful and lasting biological effects, according to Andrew Whitehead, a biologist with the Louisiana State University (LSU). Whitehead, along with Fernando Galvez (also an LSU biologist), led a study examining the biological effects of low concentrations of oil on fish in the Gulf of Mexico.  Their research has previously shown that exposure to certain elements found in crude oil can cause harmful gene expression changes in killifish. Killifish are an important food source for many species, including economically important ones such as red snapper. The researchers found comparable changes in gene expression in killifish from the marshes, and in killifish embryos exposed to contaminated water samples in the lab. These changes have been shown to cause developmental abnormalities, decreased embryo survival and lower reproductive success. The findings were published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study was funded by a National Science Foundation rapid response grant. Read the full article at Nature News. Jellyfish drifts its way to predatory dominance: In certain ocean waters, climate change, overfishing and expanding dead zones have paved the way for the ascent of a nontraditional predator: jellyfish. Biologist José Luis Acuña of the University of Oviedo in Spain and fellow researchers note that while fish use their eyes and swimming maneuverability to catch fish, jellyfish, which slowly drift through the water, consume just as much prey, when their large body masses are taken into account. The researchers found that when measured by the amount of carbon in their bodies, rather than their total weight, jellyfish consume and incorporate as much prey as do fish. Read more at Jellyfishes Shown to Be Effective Predators USDA’s bee basics: They’re an American fixture and the state insect of 17 states, but the honeybee, like most Americans, has immigrant roots. Honeybee species were brought to America via European settlers, beginning in the 1600s.  A new publication from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expands upon many interesting facts about bees, including honeybees and native species, such as the carpenter bee and bumble bee. According to USDA, there are over 4,000 species of native bees in the United States. Native bees provide an important economic resource in that they pollinate 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the United States. Their interaction with other plant and animal wildlife makes them a vital part of our ecosystem. The USDA publication expands upon these and other interesting facts about bees, including ways to help sustain their prevalence. Also, USGS research on climate change in...

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Tracking Pacific walrus, impacts of early-life stress, and plant traits matter more than origin

Monitoring Pacific Walrus: With the end of summer fast approaching, US Geological Survey (USGS) researchers are once again gearing up to radio-tag walruses on Alaska’s northwestern coast as part of the agency’s ongoing study of how the marine mammals are coping with declining sea ice. “Sea ice is an important component in the life cycle of walruses.  These tracking studies will help us to better understand how top consumers in the arctic ecosystem may be affected by changes in sea ice habitats,” said USGS Alaska Science Center research ecologist Chad Jay in yesterday’s USGS press release. Walruses, which can dive hundreds of feet in search of food, rely on sea ice to rest between dives.  When sea ice is not available, the animals haul out on beaches, something they have been doing more frequently as the extent of sea ice has decreased in recent summers.  Read more at www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/ Far-reaching impact of stress: A new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. shows that when zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) are briefly exposed to stress early in life, the jolt of stress hormones reduced not only their own lifespan, but that of their breeding partner as well.  Pat Monaghan (University of Glasgow) and co-authors report that “only 5 percent of control birds with control partners had died after 3 years, compared with over 40 percent in early stress pairs. Interestingly, a pair’s reproductive success did not seem to be compromised by the early-life exposure to stress. Traits trump plant origins: Nonnative plants often get a bad rap as being a potential threat to wildlife habitat and many state agencies spend time and energy getting rid of them.  An In Press study with Ecological Applications suggests that might be a misplaced effort in some cases.  Jillian Cohen (Cornell University) and colleagues compared the impacts of native and nonnative wetland plants on three species of native larval amphibians.  They found no difference in metamorphosis rates and length of larval period between habitats dominated by native and nonnative plants.  Say the authors: “We suggest that to improve habitats for native fauna managers should focus on assembling a plant community with desirable traits rather than only focusing on plant origin.” Rising sources of nitrate to Gulf of Mexico:  The results of a new study by the US Geological Survey (USGS) published in Environmental Science and Technology found that in spite of decreases along some portions of the Mississippi River Basin, overall efforts to curb this nutrient have been unsuccessful.   Excessive nitrate contributes to the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zones—areas unable to support marine life because of minimal oxygen.  The USGS study...

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Ecological research in images

(Click the below image to view the photo gallery.) This week, the American Museum of Natural History launched the exhibit “Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies” which explores the images produced by scientists while performing research. The images range from bug genitalia to staghorn coral (see video at the end of this post). As quoted in a recent Wired Science article, “‘A lot of people come to the museum under [the] impression that we just look at stuff in dusty jars, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,’ said zoologist Mark Siddall, curator of the museum’s new exhibit. ‘There’s a lot of solid, cutting-edge research going on here with incredibly advanced technology.’” Dave Mosher explained in the Wired Science article that images like these are a large part of any scientific endeavor, but often times, these images are filed away—never to be seen by the public. Of course, there are journals that publish images alongside the research articles. While they are all accessible through searches, these images are not typically displayed like those that are being featured in the AMNH’s new exhibit. The above photo gallery presents only some of the images that have been featured in the Ecological Society of America’s journals over the last decade or so. Click on the image to scroll through and learn a bit about the research corresponding with each image. Many of the images featured in ESA journals are taken by the researchers themselves. Browse all of the cover images on ESA’s journals...

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