Climate Change: It’s a Buzzkill for Bumblebees, Study Finds – By Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich – The New York Times

A queen Bombus affinis, collected in Racine, Wis.All photos from the U.S.G.S. Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

“Behold the humble bumblebee.

Hot temperatures linked to climate change, especially extremes like heat waves, are contributing to the decline of these fuzzy and portly creatures, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

Researchers found that bumblebee populations had recently declined by 46 percent in North America and by 17 percent across Europe when compared to a base period of 1901 to 1974. The biggest declines were in areas where temperatures spiked well beyond the historical range, which raises concerns that climate change could increase the risk of extinction for bees, which are already threatened by pesticide use and habitat loss.

“The scale of this decline is really worrying,” said Peter Soroye, a doctoral student in biology at the University of Ottawa and lead author of the study. “This group of organisms is such a critical pollinator in wild landscapes and agricultural regions.”

The common eastern bumblebee, or Bombus impatiens, shown below, is an important pollinator in eastern North America. It’s also the species you’re most likely to encounter in your garden.”

Grizzly Bear Death Rates Are Climbing – By Jim Robbins – The New York Times

ESSEX, Mont. — The long freight trains climb slowly over Marias Pass, through snow-draped mountains south of Glacier National Park and north of the Great Bear Wilderness, snaking through some of the wildest country in the Lower 48.

Some 25 trains a day, each a chain of 90 to 120 cars, make the journey over the Rocky Mountains in northern Montana at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. They have long been a threat to grizzly bears, and last year was the worst with eight of the bears — a federally protected species — run over by trains. On one day in June, a mother and her two cubs were killed by trains in two separate incidents. The long-term average for grizzly deaths by train is two a year.

“A train can sneak up on you,” said John Waller, the supervisory wildlife biologist for Glacier National Park, as he stopped to watch one chug through the forest. “They are amazingly quiet on the down grade and there are a lot of times the sound is blocked, coming in and out of the valleys.”

The death rate of grizzlies in this region has been rising, attributed not only to trains, but to poaching, cars and the removal of troublesome bears. In 2018, a record number — 51 — were killed in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, millions of acres in and around Glacier Park. And last year, 51 bears were killed. In 2017, just 29 bears were killed or euthanized.

At the same time, though, the region’s population of grizzly bears has come roaring back to a high of 1,051 from a low of about 350 to 400, when they were listed in 1975 as a threatened species. Some experts say the increase in mortality is a reflection of the fact that more bears are roaming in far more places than they used to, and argue that, so far, these higher death rates are not a threat to the species.”

Fireflies are disappearing – CNN

This photo taken on August 18, 2015 shows fireflies kept in jars during in Guangzhou in China's southern Guangdong province.

(CNN)  “Around the world, fireflies light up the night with their shimmering bodies. But scientists say this magical display is under threat — with the loss of their natural habitats, pesticide use and artificial light putting some of the 2,000 or so species at risk of extinction.

Habitat loss is leading to the decline of many wildlife species, with some fireflies suffering because they need certain environmental conditions to complete their life cycle, said Sara Lewis, a professor of biology at Tufts University, who led the research published Monday in the journal Bioscience.
For example, she said, one Malaysian firefly (Pteroptyx tener), famous for its synchronized flashing displays, needs mangroves and the plants they contain to breed but across Malaysia mangrove swamps have been converted into palm oil plantations and aquaculture farms.
More surprisingly, the researchers found that the use of artificial light at night, something that has grown exponentially over the past century, was the second most serious threat to the creatures.”

Opinion | We Made the Coronavirus Epidemic – By David Quammen – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Quammen is the author of “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.”

Credit…Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

“The latest scary new virus that has captured the world’s horrified attention, caused a lockdown of 56 million people in China, disrupted travel plans around the globe and sparked a run on medical masks from Wuhan, Hubei Province, to Bryan, Texas, is known provisionally as “nCoV-2019.” It’s a clunky moniker for a lurid threat.

The name, picked by the team of Chinese scientists who isolated and identified the virus, is short for “novel coronavirus of 2019.” It reflects the fact that the virus was first recognized to have infected humans late last year — in a seafood and live-animal market in Wuhan — and that it belongs to the coronavirus family, a notorious group. The SARS epidemic of 2002-3, which infected 8,098 people worldwide, killing 774 of them, was caused by a coronavirus, and so was the MERS outbreak that began on the Arabian Peninsula in 2012 and still lingers (2,494 people infected and 858 deaths as of November).

Despite the new virus’s name, though, and as the people who christened it well know, nCoV-2019 isn’t as novel as you might think.

Something very much like it was found several years ago in a cave in Yunnan, a province roughly a thousand miles southwest of Wuhan, by a team of perspicacious researchers, who noted its existence with concern. The fast spread of nCoV-2019 — more than 4,500 confirmed cases, including at least 106 deaths, as of Tuesday morning, and the figures will have risen by the time you read this — is startling but not unforeseeable. That the virus emerged from a nonhuman animal, probably a bat, and possibly after passing through another creature, may seem spooky, yet it is utterly unsurprising to scientists who study these things.”

The Freshwater Giants Are Dying – By Rachel Nuwer – The New York Times

By 

“Some of the most astonishing creatures on Earth hide deep in rivers and lakes: giant catfish weighing over 600 pounds, stingrays the length of Volkswagen Beetles, six-foot-long trout that can swallow a mouse whole.

There are about 200 species of so-called freshwater megafauna, but compared to their terrestrial and marine counterparts, they are poorly studied by scientists and little known to the public. And they are quietly disappearing.

Following an exhaustive survey throughout the Yangtze River basin, researchers this month declared the Chinese paddlefish officially extinct. The paddlefish, last seen alive in 2003, could grow up to 23 feet long and once inhabited many of China’s rivers, but overfishing and dams decimated their populations.

The paddlefish may be a harbinger for many other giant fish. According to research published in August in Global Change Biology, freshwater megafauna have declined by 88 percent worldwide in recent years.”

Some of Australia’s Smallest Species Could Be Lost to Wildfires – By Helen Sullivan – The New York Times

By 

“SYDNEY, Australia — When Tanya Latty, an entomologist at the University of Sydney, started studying a species of velvet worm 18 months ago, she thought it was just a side project.

“It’s an adorable, adorable animal,” she said, speaking on the phone from her home in Sydney. The worms — which comprise the phylum Onychophora, are cousins of arthropods and somewhat resemble caterpillars — have a “beautiful blue velvety texture” and “cute little stubby antenna,” Dr. Latty said. The worms sleep together in a pile, she noted, and for that reason she and her colleagues have been trying to popularize the phrase “a cuddle of velvet worms” as a collective noun.

Velvet worms are predators; they have pairs of clawed legs down the length of their bodies, and they catch prey using glue shot from nozzles on their heads. Often, a single worm will catch the prey and others will then join the feast. Velvet worms are incredibly social; studying them provides clues to the evolution of social behavior in arthropods. And they give birth to live young, which remain with their parents for a period before shuffling off.

They also happen to live in one of the national parks in the Australian Capital Territory, an area badly affected by the recent wildfires. So far the fires have destroyed more than 40,000 square miles, threatening entire species, costing 26 human lives and exacting billions of dollars in damage. Dr. Latty would not reveal the worms’ exact location; people tend to poach them to sell or keep as pets. But she worried that the rotting logs they inhabit had not protected them from the blazes.”

Killer Slime, Dead Birds, an Expunged Map: The Dirty Secrets of European Farm Subsidies – The New York Times

“In the spring of 2017, a European Union working group of environmentalists, academics and lobbyists was having a technical discussion on green farming practices when a map appeared on an overhead screen. In an instant, the room froze.

A farm lobbyist objected. Officials murmured their disapproval.

The map juxtaposed pollution in northern Italy with the European Union subsidies paid to farmers in the region. The overlap was undeniable and invited a fundamental question: Is the European Union financing the very environmental problems it is trying to solve?

The map was expunged from the group’s final reports, those in attendance say. But using the European Union’s own economic models, The New York Times created an approximation that confirms what European officials did not want seen: The most heavily subsidized areas had the worst pollution.”

Overlapping E.U. subsidies with Italy’s nitrate pollution

E.U. farm subsidies                                                Nitrate pollution

More subsidies                                                     Higher pollution

 Pierre Philippe’s fight began when people and animals started dying on the beaches of northwestern France.

A man’s body was pulled from a pile of green slime. A rider was discovered unconscious beside his dead horse. A beach worker slipped into a coma, and a jogger fatally collapsed.

The reason seemed obvious to Dr. Philippe, an emergency room doctor. Every summer, algae coats the Brittany beaches with bright green slime. As it decomposes, it gives off hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas that can kill in seconds.

Dr. Philippe tried for years to persuade government health officials to acknowledge the threat, or even discuss it. They refused. “If they recognize the problem, they also indirectly admit responsibility,” he said. “And they know that.”

That’s because talking about the algae meant talking about farming.”

A Trump Policy ‘Clarification’ All but Ends Punishment for Bird Deaths – By Lisa Friedman – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — As the state of Virginia prepared for a major bridge and tunnel expansion in the tidewaters of the Chesapeake Bay last year, engineers understood that the nesting grounds of 25,000 gulls, black skimmers, royal terns and other seabirds were about to be plowed under.

To compensate, they considered developing an artificial island as a haven. Then in June 2018, the Trump administration stepped in. While the federal government “appreciates” the state’s efforts, new rules in Washington had eliminated criminal penalties for “incidental” migratory bird deaths that came in the course of normal business, administration officials advised. Such conservation measures were now “purely voluntary.

The state ended its island planning.

The island is one of dozens of bird-preservation efforts that have fallen away in the wake of the policy change in 2017 that was billed merely as a technical clarification to a century-old law protecting migratory birds. Across the country birds have been killed and nests destroyed by oil spills, construction crews and chemical contamination, all with no response from the federal government, according to emails, memos and other documents viewed by The New York Times.

Not only has the administration stopped investigating most bird deaths, the documents show, it has discouraged local governments and businesses from taking precautionary measures to protect birds.”

David Lindsay:  Thank you Lisa Friedman. The comments are also excellent, though deeply disturging. Here is perhaps my favorite:

froze
Indiana

What this sort of thing concerning bird population drop off is not addressing is that birds are starving for natural food which are insects. The insect population is dramatically down due to insect resistant modified plants and insecticide used on crops. I remember as a kid in the 60’s and 70’s bugs would smear the windshield like crazy while driving through the country, now bugs rarely hit the windshield! This massive decline in bugs is a HUGE reasons the bird population is way down, if the birds don’t have their natural food sources then they won’t survive and won’t have as many fledglings. But no one wants to address this reduction in insects due to insect resistant plants and insecticides because that’s what’s making money for the farmers. And as a side issue, how good is this genetically altered insect resistant crops for humans to eat over the long haul? I have a feeling we’re in for a very bad surprise.

4 Replies172 Recommended

Mystery solved: ocean acidity in the last mass extinction | YaleNews

Heterohelix globulosa fossils
A species of foraminifera called Heterohelix globulosa that were picked and isolated from the K-Pg boundary clay at Geulhemmerberg in the Netherlands. Each fossil measures between 150 and 212 microns.

“A new study led by Yale University confirms a long-held theory about the last great mass extinction event in history and how it affected Earth’s oceans. The findings may also answer questions about how marine life eventually recovered.

The researchers say it is the first direct evidence that the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago coincided with a sharp drop in the pH levels of the oceans — which indicates a rise in ocean acidity.

The study appears in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Cretaceous-Paleogene die-off, also known as the K-Pg mass extinction event, occurred when a meteor slammed into Earth at the end of the Cretaceous period. The impact and its aftereffects killed roughly 75% of the animal and plant species on the planet, including whole groups like the non-avian dinosaurs and ammonites.

For years, people suggested there would have been a decrease in ocean pH because the meteor impact hit sulphur-rich rocks and caused the raining-out of sulphuric acid, but until now no one had any direct evidence to show this happened,” said lead author Michael Henehan, a former Yale scientist who is now at GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany.

Turns out all they had to do was look at the foraminifera.

Pincelli Hull standing next to researcher Michael Henehan, who is looking into a microscope.
Pincelli Hull, assistant professor of geology and geophysics, standing next to researcher Michael Henehan, who is looking into a microscope.

Foraminifera are tiny plankton that grow a calcite shell and have an amazingly complete fossil record going back hundreds of millions of years. Analysis of the chemical composition of foraminifera fossils from before, during, and after the K-Pg event produced a wealth of data about changes in the marine environment over time. Specifically, measurements of boron isotopes in these shells allowed the Yale scientists to detect changes in the ocean’s acidity.”

Source: Mystery solved: ocean acidity in the last mass extinction | YaleNews

David Lindsay
Excess Carbon Dioxide is causing the oceans to acidify in the last 200 years or so, to the point that half of the Great Barrier Reef, is dead. Coral reefs are dying all over the world. This science shows that ocean acidity in the past led to a great die off of aquatic species during the 5th great extinction 66 million years ago.

Opinion | Tennessee Makes Way for the Monarchs – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

Margaret Renkl

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

CreditCreditWilliam DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — A few years ago I started noticing wildflowers blooming beside the highway: ironweed and goldenrod and snakeroot and black-eyed Susan. The first time it happened the sun was in my eyes as I drove west toward Memphis, and a late summer drought was filling the air with dust motes. For a moment I thought I was imagining flowers where flowers had never been before. A daydream on a lonesome stretch of highway as twilight came on.

There was nothing unusual about the flowers themselves — they’re the plants that commonly bloom along Nashville’s greenways during late summer — but these flowers weren’t in a park or a nature preserve. They were growing right on the interstate median and on the side of the road. I figured the state’s Department of Transportation simply hadn’t gotten around to mowing yet.

Then I started to see the flowers in springtime, too, and all summer. The decision not to mow, it turns out, was deliberate. The Tennessee Department of Transportation — like many other state transportation departments across the country — now practices swath mowing, a strategy that allows wildflowers to bloom unmolested in rural areas till after the first frost. Instead of clearing the entire space between the road and the right-of-way fence, mowers clear only a 16-foot-wide area next to the road.

The mowed swath preserves clear sightlines for drivers while allowing wildflowers to grow in the deep margins between the mowed area and the fence. After the wildflowers have gone to seed, and the seeds have had time to ripen and drop, mowers clear the entire area again to keep trees from becoming established too close to the road. In Tennessee, this plan began as an experimental program in 2013 and now encompasses all rural highways managed by the state. That’s 13,807 miles of blooming flowers across Tennessee.”