ESA Policy News Feb. 3: Policymakers react to Flint water crisis, ESA selects 2016 GSPA winners, ESA Past president honored
Feb03

ESA Policy News Feb. 3: Policymakers react to Flint water crisis, ESA selects 2016 GSPA winners, ESA Past president honored

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  EPA: FLINT WATER CRISIS GETS ATTENTION FROM WHITE HOUSE, CONGRESS On Jan. 16, the president signed an official state of emergency declaration for Flint Michigan in light of the city’s drinking water crisis. The action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts to alleviate or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the region of Genesee County, MI. In January, House Energy and Commerce Committee members sent a bipartisan letter to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting a briefing on the water crisis in Flint, MI. The letter was led by Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Environment and Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) and Environment and Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NJ). On Feb. 3, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee became the first congressional committee to hold a hearing on the Flint water crisis. Click here to view the congressional hearing. Click here to view the White House statement on the emergency declaration. Click here to view the House letter.   PUBLIC HEALTH: ZIKA VIRUS DECLARED INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCY On Feb. 1, leaders of the World Health Organization declared the spread of the Zika virus as a global health emergency and predicted as many as four million cases expected across Central and South America. Human migration, climate change, and urbanization are cited as factors that may contribute to the spread of these diseases. Rising global temperatures and longer periods of warm weather aide both mosquito breeding cycles and the expansion of their geographical range. Human communities provide multiple sources of standing water that serve as breeding grounds for the insects, which include flower pots and drainage ditches. Click here to view a White House fact sheet on the Zika virus.   NSF: NSB REPORT HIGHLIGHTS INTERNATIONAL TRENDS IN RESEARCH INVESTMENT On Jan. 19, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board released its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report. The report highlights United States lead throughout the world in its investment in research and development (R&D), but notes that China, South Korea, and India are rapidly increasing their investments. According to the report, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D. The United States accounts for 27 percent of global R&D. China leads the United States as the world’s number one producer of undergraduates with degrees in science. China graduates 49 percent of science bachelor’s degrees, compared to 33 percent of bachelor’s science degrees...

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Slowing the insect invasion: wood packaging sanitation policy yields US $11.7 billion net benefit
Jun06

Slowing the insect invasion: wood packaging sanitation policy yields US $11.7 billion net benefit

Risk analysis finds savings for homeowners and local governments of excluding invasive pests like the emerald ash borer outweigh added cost to imported goods.

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Efforts to mitigate white-nose syndrome continue amid new reports

This post contributed by Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst  In recent weeks, federal scientists have reported that the fungal disease Geomyces destructans, commonly known as white-nose syndrome, has extended its reach across the eastern region of the United States. On March 29, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced that the disease was reported in Fort Delaware State Park, and reports have also confirmed the disease in Maine’s Acadia National Park, and Alabama’s Russell Cave in Jackson County, the first observations of the disease in these states. The National Park Service also reported that the disease has spread to the Great Smoky Mountain region in Tennessee, home to eleven bat species including the largest hibernating population of the endangered Indiana bat in the state. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), white-nose syndrome has killed 5.7-6.7 million bats in North America since it was first discovered in 2006. The disease is identified by a white fungus visible on the noses, wings, tails and ears of bats. While it is communicable among bats, it has not been found to infect humans. The fungus thrives in cold temperatures and is found mainly in areas with caves and mines where bats hibernate. The disease has drawn bipartisan concern from Capitol Hill, as insect-eating bats play a vital economic role in cutting pesticide costs to the nation’s farming industry. During a June 2011 House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs hearing on the disease, Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) pointed out that the bats are worth billions the agricultural industry and that 80 different medicines come from plants that are dependent on bats. The consensus support from Congress has led to increased investment in understanding and managing the disease. For Fiscal Year 2012, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74) provides $4 million to the Department of Interior’s Endangered Species Recovery Fund towards research and management of white-nose syndrome. The Act also contains specific language directing the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and FWS to prioritize research and response activities related to curtailing spread of the disease. Non-governmental organizations such as the Organization for Bat Conservation and Bat Conservation International are also working to conserve bat populations and halt the spread of the disease. Additional information on federal efforts to manage white-nose syndrome as well as updates on new reports of the disease can be found here. Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife...

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Asian longhorned beetle poses threat to New England maples

Signs of fall are beginning to appear in the northeastern United States.  Glimpses of colorful leaves are showing and a crisp autumn smell hangs in the air.  Maple trees make up much of New England’s landscape and are integral to both thriving tourist and maple syrup industries.  Now, a new study just out in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research suggests that if left uncontrolled, the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) can “readily disperse into natural forest landscapes and alter the makeup of North America’s hardwood forest region.” The study focuses on the ongoing ALB infestation in Worcester, Massachusetts, the only outbreak so far in which the beetles have invaded nearby closed-canopy forests.  ALB infestations have famously occurred in cities including New York, Boston and in Chicago. Native to eastern China, the ALB was first discovered in the U.S. in 1996, probably arriving in wood packaging material shipped from Asia.  As described on the Center for Invasive Species Research website, the wood-boring beetle often kills otherwise healthy trees by girdling them and creating holes in the bark, leaving the trees vulnerable to additional attacks by other insects or disease.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working to control or eradicate ALB populations and raise public awareness and cooperation as seen in the agency’s public service announcement in the video below. In urban environments, the ALB invades a wide variety of hardwood trees but in forests it favors maple trees.  At one of the study’s research sites in a suburb of Worcester, nearly two-thirds of all maple trees were infested.  According to a National Science Foundation (NSF) press release about the recent study, the Worcester ALB outbreak is the largest so far in North America with more than 19,600 trees infested.  Eradication efforts involve harvesting affected trees and have led to shifts in forest composition from maple to oak. Says co-author David Orwig, a forest ecologist at NSF’s Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research site in the NSF release: “If the ALB continues to spread outside Worcester, the abundance of red maples could provide a pathway for its dispersal throughout New England and other parts of eastern North America.”   Photo: NSF Harvard Forest LTER...

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Pollination from the plant’s perspective

If plants had a perspective, they would probably think of pollinators as more than just extra-friendly house guests. That is, plants would be more likely to view pollinators as the mutual friend who likes to set up blind dates. Bees might limit pollen to its use as a protein source for the hive, and birds might devour the flesh of a fruit and eliminate the seed as waste. However, many flowering plants, as Bug Girl pointed out in a post in honor of National Pollinator Week, have evolved alongside these pollinators for only one purpose: reproduction. “Sure, you can toss your pollen out on the wind and hope it lands in the right place. And for a lot of plants, evergreens in particular, this works just fine,” she wrote. “That methodology results in a lot of wasted gametes (plant sperm) though, so for nearly all flowering plants, insects or other pollinators are needed for plant nookie.” Sometimes the pollinator-plant relationship is mutualistic, and in many cases, one species or another is dependent upon the other for its survival. Take the agave plant. Probably the most well-known species is the blue agave plant (Agave tequilana), the nectar of which is used as a granular sugar substitute and to make tequila (one of the “finer” products of pollination, along with chocolate and coffee, mentioned by Bug Girl ). Leptonycteris nivalis, known as the greater long-nosed bat or Mexican long-nosed bat, and the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae), are the primary pollinators of this economically and ecologically valuable plant. This agave-bat relationship is mutually beneficial. The bats, hovering in place like a hummingbird, use their long muzzles to feed on the high-fructose nectar of the agave. At the same time, the plants’ pollen collects on the bats’ fur. The bats then travel from plant to plant, spreading pollen as they drink from the nectar-filled stalks that bloom each night across the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. The bats also migrate based on the blooming time of these plants. They arrive in Texas—particularly in Big Bend National Park, where a single colony resides in the Chisos Mountains—shortly after agave plants, such as the century plant (Agave havardiana), begin to bloom. Unfortunately, the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-nosed bat are endangered—and as their numbers decline, agave plant reproduction becomes more limited. A little farther north, however, some species of agave plants—those that are not harvested for tequila— have evolved to attract both bats and moths to serve as pollinators. Agave plants have several ways of advertising their nectar: the scent, the color of the flower and the shape, or morphology, of the structure...

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Ballistics experts of the bug world

Meet the ballistics experts of the bug world: A quick draw beetle that fires volatile liquids with the pulse of a Tommy Gun, aphids that self-combust at the threat of a predator and a double-pistoled worm that sprays its victim with streams of goo. Of course, these insects are not the only invertebrates carrying chemical artillery—bees are maybe the most famous projectile-launching bugs around. The below insects, however, give a unique look into chemical warfare on a small scale.

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