ESA Policy News November 5: Senate elections shake up committees, IPCC report finds climate change effects irreversible
Nov05

ESA Policy News November 5: Senate elections shake up committees, IPCC report finds climate change effects irreversible

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  SENATE: ELECTIONS, RETIREMENTS SHAKE UP KEY SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENTAL COMMITTEES On Nov. 4, Republicans decisively gained control of the US Senate for the first time in eight years. The party managed to hold onto all their incumbents while picking up seats in Arkansas (Tom Cotton), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Iowa (Joni Ernst), North Carolina (Thom Tillis), Montana (Steven Daines), West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito) and South Dakota (Michael Rounds). Among races too close to call, Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is leading Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, while current Democratic Sen. Mark Warner holds a very small edge over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia. As anticipated, Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was forced into a run-off in her race against Republican Bill Cassidy when neither candidate obtained a majority of the vote according to state rules. Senate Republicans could hold between 53–55 Senate seats next Congress after the dust finally settles at the conclusion of the Dec. 6 Louisiana run-off. The 2014 election results, as well as retirements, will mean new leadership for a handful of Senate committees with jurisdiction over issues that affect the ecological community. Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is the Ranking Member and is in line to become chair under a Republican-controlled Senate. Current Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is expected to serve as the ranking member. Appropriations Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the senior Republican is expected to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Republican Senate majority. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would continue as Ranking Member under the new leadership. Mikulski and Shelby also hold the top spots for their parties on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which has funding jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Commerce, Science and Transportation Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is retiring at the close of the current 113th Congress. Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) is expected to chair the committee next year. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Cantwell are the next most senior Democrats that could serve as ranking member in January. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the ranking member of the Science and Space Subcommittee and may take control of the subcommittee in the Republican Senate. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) currently chairs the subcommittee and could serve as ranking member. The next Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chair will have to decide on how to move forward with legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, which outlines funding priorities...

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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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Extreme weather, campaigning honeybees and tracking whale sharks

This post contributed by Molly Taylor, ESA Science Writing Intern. Extreme weather: The rare multi-vortex that hit Joplin, Missouri on May 22 has claimed more than 100 lives and destroyed countless homes and buildings. Unfortunately, this is not the only natural disaster to devastate the U.S. this year. According to a recent Washington Post article, this storm season is turning out to be one of the most violent on record. The extreme weather, Brian Vastag and Ed O’Keefe reported in the article, is due at least in part to La Nina: “The jet stream’s river of cool air high in the atmosphere pulls warmer, more humid air from the ground upward, forming thunderstorm ‘supercells.’ Such a pattern drove the outbreak of more than 300 tornadoes that swept from Mississippi to Tennessee in late April, killing at least 365…” But according to the Post, researchers have also been exploring the potential role of climate change in recent weather patterns. Read more at “Storm season on deadly path; Obama to visit Joplin.” Campaigning honeybees: In the spring, beehives can reach capacity, basically overflowing with honey and bee larva. This overcrowding can cause the hive to literally burst in two, leaving half of the population in need of a new home. The old queen leads one half of the homeless pack to establish a new colony at a separate location, while a new queen takes charge of the existing hive. But where do the homeless bees go? Despite the royal title, the queen is not ruling a monarchy—worker bees actually vote for their favorite location. “The older, more experienced bees…fly off looking for options,” wrote NPR’s Robert Krulwich, and upon their return, they “announce their ‘finds’ by dancing.” That is the point when the “waggle dancing” begins (and yes, that is the official term), whereby the scouting bees use dancing to signal their sister bees. This encourages the sister bees to have a peek at the potential new home, and if they like what they see, they start doing the same dance. “This is how bees ‘vote,’” wrote Krulwich. “They dance themselves into a consensus.” Read more at “Nature’s Secret: Why Honey Bees Are Better Politicians Than Humans.” Tracking whale sharks: “With the help of algorithms designed to guide the Hubble telescope’s starscape surveys, conservation-minded coders have designed software that helps biologists identify whale sharks by their spots,” wrote Brandon Keim in a recent Wired Science article. “The program enlists the help of citizens with cameras, and lets researchers track Earth’s biggest fish across time and oceans.” In the past, researchers have found whale sharks to be too elusive to track as...

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From the Community: Artificial butterflies, bug-eating sea slugs and bum-shaking tree frogs

A scientist unravels the evolution of anthropods, a photographer gets intimate with the bee and its stinger, an angry tree frog displays a bum-shaking warning and the International Institute for Species Exploration announces the Best Species of 2009. Here are highlights in ecology from the third week in May.

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From the Community: Respecting animal privacy, rewilding America and reassessing the Dead Zone

Early morning flyovers produce a 3D map of New York City’s environment, scientists analyze lizard competition in the Bahamas, Slate reviews the ecological cost of large scale illegal drug production and golden lion tamarins paint for an auction to fund National Zoo research. Here is the latest news in ecology for the first week in May.

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From the Community: Colonizing the oceans, fact-checking nursery rhymes and urbanizing mollusks

Aquanaut describes plans to colonize the sea for education and conservation, a pitcher plant previously thought to be carnivorous has been wildly reclassified and the first condor egg in 100 years discovered in California. Here are news stories and studies on ecological science from the second week in March.

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Mites and poor diet contribute to honeybee decline in Europe

Two timely reports have surfaced this week regarding the decline of honeybee populations in Europe, and France has taken action in an attempt to curb the falling numbers.  A recent study linked honeybee health and plant biodiversity In a study published in the Journal of Apicultural Research, scientists have found that managed honeybee populations across Europe have dropped an average of 20 percent over the last 20 years, with England being hit the hardest at a 54 percent decline. Simon Potts and colleagues from the University of Reading analyzed several patterns across 18 countries in Europe and found the mite Varroa destructor–a parasite responsible for transmitting infections in honeybee colonies—infested virtually every honeybee colony they examined. In another study, scientists from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Avignon reported a possible dietary connection between the strength of the honeybee immune system and plant biodiversity.  Cedric Alaux, who co-authored the study published in Biology Letters, told BBC News:    We found that bees fed with a mix of five different pollens had higher levels of glucose oxidase compared to bees fed with pollen from one single type of flower, even if that single flower had a higher protein content.  Bees use glucose oxidase to sterilize colony and brood food in an effort to make the hive resistant to infection. As Alaux told BBC, a more diverse diet, therefore, might help a honeybee colony protect against pathogen invasion.   These studies emerge amidst France’s recent decision to sow nectar-bearing flowers alongside 250 kilometers (155 miles) of roadway in an effort to boost honeybee populations. If the results from the three-year test are positive, France is prepared to extend the flowers along the country’s 12,000-kilometer (7,500-mile) network of non-toll roads.  Read more at BBC and the Telegraph.    Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aussiegall/ / CC BY 2.0 Potts, S., Settele, J., Neumann,, P., Jones, R., Mike A Brown, M., Marris, G., Dean, R., & Roberts, S. (2010). Declines of managed honey bees and beekeepers in Europe Journal of Apicultural Research, 49 (1) DOI:...

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