Wildlife

Alarm over decline in flying insects

Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this. Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years. And the causes are unknown.

The study is based on measurements of the biomass of all insects trapped at 63 nature protection areas in Germany over 27 years since 1989. The data includes thousands of different insects, such as bees, butterflies and moths. Scientists say the dramatic decline was seen regardless of habitat, land use and the weather, leaving them at a loss to explain what was behind it. They stressed the importance of adopting measures known to be beneficial for insects, including strips of flowers around farmland and minimising the effects of intensive agriculture. And they said there was an urgent need to uncover the causes and extent of the decline in all airborne insects.

The loss of insects has far-reaching consequences for entire ecosystems. Insects provide a food source for many birds, amphibians, bats and reptiles, while plants rely on insects for pollination.

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Wildlife

Lobster Paradox

The number of baby lobsters in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank regions has dropped to the lowest levels since about the beginning of this century.

Despite the dwindling population of juvenile lobsters, the industry has for years brought in record catches of adults.

Atlantic waters off Maine and Canada have been warming more rapidly in recent years than in most other areas of the world.

The head of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association says that once-plentiful starfish, sea urchins, sea sculpins and rock crabs are no longer being found in traps.

Nocturnal Distractions

The widespread use of artificial light at night is joining climate change, pesticide use and invasive alien species as the latest threat to pollinating insects.

New research published in the journal Nature found that nighttime illumination reduces visits of nocturnal pollinators to flowers by 62 percent.

The moths, beetles and bugs that are the leading pollinators after dark are easily distracted from their duties by the allure of bright lights, according to lead researcher Eva Knop of the University of Bern. She and colleagues made the discovery by comparing insect-plant interactions in naturally dark meadows with those in areas that are illuminated.

Wildlife

Polar Bears – Good News

Polar bear populations are growing despite global warming, according to new research.

The new population estimates from the 2016 Scientific Working Group are somewhere between 22,633 to 32,257 bears, which is a net increase from the 2015 number of 22,000 to 31,000. The current population numbers are a sharp increase from 2005’s, which stated only 20,000 to 25,000 bears remained — those numbers were a major increase from estimates that only 8,000 to 10,000 bears remained in the late 1960s.

Until the new study, bear subpopulations in the Baffin Bay and Kane Basin (KB) were thought to be in decline due to over-hunting and global warming. The new report indicates this is not the case.

Scientists are increasingly realizing that polar bears are much more resilient to changing levels of sea ice than environmentalists previously believed, and numerous healthy populations are thriving.

Winged Extinction

The buzzing wings of crickets and grasshoppers could fall silent across the European landscape if action isn’t taken to protect the insects’ habitats, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The grassland inhabitants are an important food source for birds and reptiles, but more than a quarter of their species have been driven to extinction in recent decades. The disappearance has mainly been due to loss of habitat to wildfires, intensive agriculture and tourism development, according to the conservation group.

Monarch Losses

The number of monarch butterflies has dropped by 27 percent during recent months at the insects’ winter home in western Mexico. The plunge followed last year’s apparent recovery from the historically low numbers two years ago. Experts at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán state say some of the decline could be due to storms late last winter that felled more than 100 acres of forests where the colourful butterflies winter. The monarchs also suffered a high level of mortality due to the same cold, wet and windy storms.

Wildlife

Widespread impacts of neonicotinoids ‘impossible to deny’

Neonicotinoid pesticides are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial species and are a key factor in the decline of bees, say scientists.

Researchers, who have carried out a four-year review of the literature, say the evidence of damage is now “conclusive”.

The scientists say the threat to nature is the same as that once posed by the notorious chemical DDT.

Manufacturers say the pesticides are not harming bees or other species.

Neonicotinoids were introduced in the early 1990s as a replacement for older, more damaging chemicals. They are a systemic insecticide, meaning that they are absorbed into every cell in a plant, making all parts poisonous to pests.

But some scientists have been concerned about their impact, almost since the moment they were introduced.

Much of the worry has surrounded their effects on bees.

There’s been a well documented, global decline in these critical pollinators.

Many researchers believe that exposure to neonicotinoids has been an important destabilising factor for the species.

In 2011, environmental campaigners, the IUCN, established an international scientific taskforce on systemic pesticides to look into the impacts of these chemicals.

The members have reviewed over 800 peer reviewed papers that have been published in the past 20 years. Their assessment of the global impact says the threat posed goes far beyond bees.

In their report, to be published next month, they argue that neonicotinoids and another chemical called fipronil are poisoning the earth, the air and the water.

The pesticides accumulate in the soil and leach into water, and pose a significant problem for earthworms, freshwater snails, butterflies and birds.

The researchers say that the classic measurements used to assess the toxicity of a pesticide are not effective for these systemic varieties and conceal their true impact.

They point to one of the studies in the review carried out in the Netherlands.

It found that higher levels of neonicotinoids in water reduced the levels of aquatic invertebrates, which are the main prey for a whole range of species including wading birds, trout and salmon.

“There is so much evidence, going far beyond bees,” Prof Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex told BBC News.

“They accumulate in soils, they are commonly turning up in waterways at levels that exceed the lethal dose for things that live in streams.

“It is impossible to deny that these things are having major environmental impacts.”

The scientists are very worried about the prophylactic use of neonicotinoids, where seeds are coated in the chemicals and the plant grows up with the ability to destroy pests already built in.

“It is a bit like taking antibiotics to avoid getting ill,” said Prof Goulson, one of a team of 29 scientists involved in the research.

“The more they are used, the stronger the selective pressure you place on pest insects to become resistant to them. Using them as prophylactics is absolute madness in that sense.”

Campaigners have protested against the continued use of neonicotinoid chemicals The task force argues that with neonicotinoids and fipronil making up around a third of the world market in insecticides, farmers are over-relying on them in the same way as they once became over reliant on chemicals like DDT.

“We have forgotten those lessons and we’re back to where we were in the 1960s,” said Prof Goulson.

“We are relying almost exclusively on these insecticides, calendar spraying 20 times or more onto a single field, it’s a completely bonkers way.”

While neonicotinoids don’t accumulate in human or animal tissue in the way that DDT once did, the modern pesticides are more lethal, about 6,000 times as toxic compared to the older spray.

Representatives of manufacturers say that there is nothing new in the task force study.

“There is very little credible evidence that these things are causing untoward damage because we would have seen them over 20 years of use,” said Dr Julian Little from Bayer, one of the manufacturers of neonicotinoids.

“If you look at the tree bumblebee, it is eating the same food as the other bees, and is being exposed to the same pesticide load and weather conditions and yet it is flourishing, whereas some other bees are not.

“If it were pesticides causing the mass destruction of our fauna, surely you would see effects on all bees?”

The European Crop Protection Association said the task force was being selective in their evidence, pointing to recent studies carried out by industry showing that the declines in bee populations have been overstated.

“We respect the scientists who have produced this research, but it appears that they are part of a movement that brings together some academics and NGOs whose only objective is to restrict or ban the use of neonicotinoid technology regardless of what the evidence may show,” a spokesperson said.

Europe already has a two-year moratorium in place meaning that neonicotinoids can’t be used on flowering crops such as oilseed rape.

Last week, President Obama announced the creation of a pollinator health task force to look at the impact of pesticide exposure on bees and other insects.

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Wildlife

Ladybug Swarms Alarm US Homeowners

Unusually high numbers of non-native ladybugs are moving into homes across a broad swath of the eastern United States as chilly weather sends the insects inside, looking for a warm place to spend the coldest months of the year.

While American ladybugs normally winter under tree bark or fallen leaves, those imported decades ago from Asia to control the aphid population seem more comfortable in the walls of houses.

Entomologists say the Asian ladybugs see those structures as like the rocky outcroppings in which they sheltered back in their native habitats.

Ladybugs are generally beneficial, but can stain household surfaces if frightened, and they do have a bit of an odour in large numbers.

Once inside a home, experts say the best way to remove them is with a vacuum cleaner.

The Asian ladybugs are said to have displaced most of their American cousins in areas where they have proliferated.

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Wildlife

Japan’s Whaling on Trial in the World Court

Japan told the UN’s top court that Australia’s anti-whaling case is part of a “civilizing mission and moral crusade” that is totally out of place in the modern world.

Australian government lawyers argued in the world court that Japan’s annual whale hunt is nothing more than commercial slaughter of the marine mammals under the guise of science.

Australia’s case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague is countered by Japan’s claims that its hunts are legal under a 1946 convention that allows limited catches for scientific research.

But Australia argues that killing whales for research “only makes sense if there is a question that needs to be answered … a meaningful question.”

They say that Japan is merely enabling its whaling fleet to kill for the purpose of putting whale meat on Japanese dinner plates.

“What you have before you is not a scientific research program. It is a heap of body parts taken from a pile of dead whales,” Australian lawyer Phillippe Sands told the court.

Commercial whaling was halted in 1986 under an international moratorium.

But Japan, Iceland and Norway have continued to conduct limited whaling expeditions despite a demonstrated lack of demand in the marketplace for the meat of the slaughtered leviathans.

Australian officials say they want the court to deliver a judgment by the end of the year, before Japan launches its annual Southern Hemisphere hunt near Antarctica.

Australia has declared a vast stretch of the Southern Ocean under its jurisdiction a whale sanctuary.

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Bugless Britain Leaving U.K. Birds Hungry This Summer

A second consecutive wet, cool and unsettled summer across Britain has wiped out large populations of bees, moths and butterflies, according to a new National Trust report. It warns that the drop in the number of winged insects could cause birds and bats go to hungry for the remainder of this year.

“Insect populations have been really very low. Then when they have got going, they’ve been hit by a spell of cool, windy weather… so our environment is just not bouncing with butterflies or anything else,”said Matthew Oates, a National Trust naturalist who worked on the report.

It says that the dearth of airborne insects could cause martins, swifts, swallows and warblers to struggle to survive in the coming months.

A delayed spring that started with the coldest March in 50 years across the U.K. caused frogs and toads to struggle to breed in water that was still frozen in many rural locations.

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Wildlife

Pesticides for Agriculture Killing Aquatic Insects in the Wild

New research has found that the use of common pesticides in Europe and Australia has killed up to 42 percent of invertebrates, which make up about 95 percent of all animal species.

A team of German and Australian researchers studied the impact of the chemicals on the biodiversity of invertebrates in flowing waters of Germany, France and the Australian state of Victoria.

The study examined the effects of insecticides and fungicides that have been deemed “safe” for widespread use.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists report considerable losses in the biodiversity of aquatic insects and other freshwater invertebrates because of the use of the chemicals, as compared to the species in non-contaminated areas.

They warn that some of the insects being killed, like mayflies, caddisflies and dragonflies, are important food sources for other animals.

This means their losses affect animals up the food chain to birds and fish. Companies that manufacture the pesticides are required to prove that they break down quickly and have only limited effects on the ecosystem.

But researchers point out that those tests are mostly conducted in laboratory conditions that don’t always accurately reflect what happens in the wild.

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Wildlife

17-Year Cicadas About to Emerge in Eastern U.S.

Eerie sounds like those out of a science fiction film are about to ring ears across the eastern United States.

Every 17 years at this time, like clockwork, Brood II cicadas crawl out of the ground from North Carolina to New England.

The bugs live underground for nearly two decades, feeding off fluids that gather near the roots of plants.

They will eventually emerge by the billions when the temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Brood II, red-eyed cicada is smaller than the larger common cicada, which has green eyes and comes out every year.

They last emerged in 1996 and will fill the air with high-pitched buzzes that can be so loud they disrupt outdoor events.

But their periodic emergence and return to the ground help aerate the soil, and they return nutrients to the earth when they die. They also provide food for birds and other animals.

The 1.5-inch-long insects do not sting or bite. They spend their brief two-week lives above ground climbing trees, shedding their crunchy skins and reproducing.

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