Turning off street lights can boost pollination


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The role of moths as pollinators is often underrated (flickr).

Julia Poska| January 24, 2019

It’s common knowledge that moths are drawn to light; look up at any street lamp on a summer night and you’ll see for yourself. New research suggests that turning off those lights for just a few hours a night could not only save moths from accidental suicide, but boost local pollination as well.

According to the study, published this week in Ecosphere, nocturnal moths should naturally supplement the work of better-known pollinators like bees and butterflies.

“We know that light pollution significantly alters moth activity and this in turn is disrupting their role as pollinators,” said Darren Evans, supervisor of the study at Newcastle University, in a media release. “Understanding the ecological impact of this artificial light on the ecosystem is vital.”

Because bright lights distract the moths however (some scientists believe this is because they mistake artificial light for moonlight), they spend more time frantically swarming and less feeding on nectar.

Many localities already turn off street lights in the middle of the night to save money on energy. The researchers found that moth-pollinated flowers placed under street lights that turned off for part of the night were pollinated just as well as those pollinated in full darkness. Full-night lighting disrupted the moths’ natural behavior significantly more.

 

Tracking pesticide behavior to protect pollinators


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Beneficial insects, like the bee shown above, can be harmed by chemical pesticides (flickr). 

Julia Poska| September 27, 2018

A recent study from Japan’s Osaka University aims to help protect pollinators from harm by studying how insects metabolize pesticides.

Researchers sliced fruit flies into very thin layers with a special technique developed to keep their delicate features in tact. They used a laser to glean tissue from the layers, which they analyzed to see how Imidacloprid-a, a common agricultural pesticide, spread through the fruit fly bodies.

Imidacloprid-a is one of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which have received a lot of negative attention for being linked to declining bee populations. France recently banned five types of neonicotenoids, including imidacloprid, in an effort to protect pollinators.

Scientific studies have yielded mixed results on the actual effects of neonicotinoids on bees, however. Some have found that bees can get addicted to the nicotine derivatives, and claim they kill. Others say that only certain species are affected, and that concentration levels in the field are insufficient to do real harm.

This report, published in the journal Analytical Sciences, may help bring clarity to the confused issue. It is the first of its kind, due to the exceptional difficulty of  preparing and imaging detailed tissue specimens of fruit flies. The researchers hope others will use their technique to look further into pesticide metabolism in the future.

 

 

 

Earlier spring could threaten bees


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The new study looked at three bee species in the Rocky Mountain region. (CL Baker/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 5, 2017

A new study has found that longer spring seasons associated with climate change may be harmful to certain bee populations.

Researchers focused on a region in the Colorado Rocky mountain range and three species of bees. Using 40 years of climate and flower data collected by David Inouye, a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, College Park, the report concludes that mountain snow in the area is melting earlier than it used to, resulting in longer spring seasons with longer growing seasons for flowers. Somewhat surprisingly, there has been an increase of total number of days with low flower availability since spring began getting longer.

One of the study’s co-authors, Rebecca Irwin of North Carolina State University, said to the Scientific American, “Years that have a lot of days with low floral abundance seem to be years that have really low snowfall and early snowmelt.”

The study points out that when flowers emerge too early, they are susceptible to early spring frosts which can kill some of them off. Additionally, if snow melt begins flowing down mountain sides too early in the spring, there can be drought conditions later in the summer when it runs out.

It was found that years with a lot of low floral abundance days also had lower bee populations. The scientists write, “Our study suggests that climate-driven alterations in floral resource phenology can play a critical role in governing bee population responses to global change.”

Dr. Steve Hendrix speaks up for the wild bee


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Dr. Steve Hendrix was the keynote speaker at this week’s 34th Bur Oak Land Trust Prairie Preview. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | March 10, 2017

When the general public thinks about bees, one image comes to mind: the honeybee.

If UI Professor Emeritus Steve Hendrix’s presentation, titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation” had a central message, it was that nearly 20,000 other bee species exist and provide often under-recognized ecosystem services.

Hendrix gave the presentation at 34th Bur Oak Land Trust Prairie Preview on Thursday night to a crowd of nearly 300. He said, “All plants need pollinators some of the time, and at least some plants need pollinators all of the time.” Indeed, pollinators provide 225 billion dollars in pollination services. While honeybees receive the majority of public praise, wild bees, which are often small, solitary creatures with short life spans, do 90 percent of the pollinating on U.S. farms. Additionally, according to Hendrix’s research findings, honeybees are less effective pollinators than wild bees.

While the number of bees in the U.S. is declining, one of Hendrix’s studies provided a glimmer of hope for bees in North America. Hendrix and his colleagues compared populations of bees on large prairies with those in smaller, urban gardens and parks. Surprisingly, regardless of the area of land the bees had to roam, there was no difference in bee diversity, species richness, or abundance. The main predictor for healthy bee populations was the presence of a extremely diverse plant life.

Hendrix rounded out his presentation with a look to the future for wild bees. He emphasized once more the importance of the insects, which are largely credited with providing food security for humans. He said, “There’s going to be changes in the distribution of bees.” Due to global warming, many bee species that were previously found in southern states are making their way to Iowa. Hendrix added, “The big bees are going to be the losers in this climate change world we’re living in…it’s going to be the rare bees that are affected most.” Hendrix said that there has been limited research about what this will mean for ecosystems and human health, but encouraged all those in the audience to continue fighting to conserve habitat for bees in Iowa.

 

34th Prairie Preview takes place this Thursday


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Dr. Steve Hendrix, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Iowa, will be the featured speaker at this year’s Prairie Preview. His lecture is titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation.” (John Flannery/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 7, 2017

The 34th Prairie Preview will take place this Thursday evening in Iowa City.

The event is hosted by the Bur Oak Land Trust, an Iowa City organization that accepts land donations from residents seeking to place natural areas into public conservation trusts. The Prairie Preview XXXIV will feature a presentation from University of Iowa professor emeritus Dr. Steve Hendrix. Hendrix’s presentation, titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation” will discuss the economics and biology of pollinators, declines in honey bees and wild bee populations, the value of restoration for wild bees and the future of wild bees, among other topics. Hendrix will also provide basic information about wild bees that live in Iowa. His presentation will be based on his original research along with the work of others in the field.

Hendrix said his presentation “is important from the perspective of ecological services that wild bees provide. They are responsible for the successful reproduction of prairies and they provide the pollination needed for fruits and vegetables that keep us healthy.”

More than 40 environmental organizations and agencies will also be present at the Prairie Preview XXXIV sharing information and providing resources to attendees. The event is free, open to the public and will take place at the Clarion Highlander Hotel and Conference Center at 2525 N Dodge St, Iowa City, Iowa 52245 on March 9th, 2017. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the event begins at 7:30 p.m. 

This Prairie Preview, which usually attracts crowds of over 200 people, is sponsored by the Iowa Living Roadway Trust, Iowa Native Plant Society, City of Coralville, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Fiddlehead Gardens LLC, Forever Green, Friends of Hickory Hill Park, HBK Engineering, Legacy GreenBuilders, Project GREEN, Veenstra & Kimm, Inc., and Lon and Barbara Drake.

More information can be found here.

Statewide monarch butterfly conservation strategy released


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The Cerro Pelón Reserve near Macheros is the second most populous monarch butterfly roosting site in Mexico during the winter months. (Dylan Hillyer/personal collection)
Jenna Ladd | February 28, 2017

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium released its statewide strategy for the conservation and advancement of the monarch butterfly on Monday.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy aims to recover monarch butterfly populations in Iowa and North America. Developed by the consortium-a group of more than thirty organizations including agricultural and conservation groups, agribusiness and utility companies, county associations, universities and state and federal agencies-the strategy provides necessary resources and information to advance the well-being of monarch butterflies in Iowa and across the continent.

A recent report found that the population of monarch butterflies that spend the winter months in Mexico decreased by 27 percent in 2016, primarily due to extreme weather events and the pervasive loss of the milkweed plant. Milkweed is the only plant in which female monarchs will lay their eggs as well as the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. According to the consortium, about 40 percent of monarchs that overwinter in Mexico come from Iowa and its neighboring states. In the last two decades, the total monarch population has declined by 80 percent.

Monarch butterflies provide vital ecosystem services including pollination and natural pest management. They also serve as a food source to larger animals such birds and bats.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp said, “We didn’t get to this point overnight, and we aren’t going to improve the population overnight. But we have a really strong group across many different areas of expertise working together to improve the outlook for the monarch in Iowa and beyond.”

The strategy provides scientifically-based conservation practices that include using monarch friendly weed management, utilizing the farm bill to plant breeding habitat, and closely following instruction labels when applying pesticides that may be toxic to the butterfly.

In June 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether or not to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Wendy Wintersteen is dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. She said, “This strategy is critical to rally Iowa agriculture, landowners and citizens to continue to make progress in restoring monarch habitat.”

Rusty patched bumble bee added to Iowa endangered species list


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The rusty patched bumble bee used to be found across 31 states and parts of Canada, but is now only found in a few upper Midwest locations. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Jenna Ladd | January 12, 2017

The rusty patched bumble bee was recently added to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list for the first time.

The Xerces Society, a non-profit conservation group out of Portland, Oregon, petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service for the species’ new designation. Serina Jepsen, director of the Xerces endangered species program, said in an interview with Radio Iowa, “The rusty patched bumble bee has declined by about 90% from its historic range,” Jepsen added, “It used to occur across 31 states as well as some Canadian provinces. It now occurs in just a handful of locations and it really only exists in any numbers in a few areas in the upper Midwest.”

Small numbers of the rusty patched bumble bee are still found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, but meaningful populations have not been detected in Iowa in years. Native pollinators like the rusty patched bumble bee are estimated to add $9 billion in value to the agricultural economy each year.

Jepsen said, “These animals together, not just the rusty patched bumble bee, but the rusty patched bumble bee and all of the other native bees that provide pollination to both wildflowers and natural ecosystems as well as our crops, are incredibly important to functioning ecosystems.”

Now that the species has been added to the endangered species list, “The Fish and Wildlife Service now has the authority to develop a recovery plan and work towards the species recovery. I think this will really make the difference this species needs in terms of its future survival and existence, really,” Jepsen said.

She added that providing habitat that sustains all pollinators depends on the continuation of investment from public agencies combined with efforts of private citizens.

The rusty patched bumble bee has a way of giving back.

Jepsen said, “Addressing the threats to the rusty patched bumble bee that it faces, from pesticide use, from disease, from habitat loss, will help not only this species but a wide variety of other native pollinators that are really important to functioning natural ecosystems as well as agricultural systems.”