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The birds and the bees

The birds and the bees 

North America’s birds are dying at a rate that’s alarming ornithologists. Since the 1970s, the continent has lost 3 billion birds, nearly 30% of the total, and even common birds such as sparrows and blackbirds are in decline, U.S. and Canadian researchers report this week online in Science. The findings raise fears that some familiar species could go the way of the passenger pigeon, a species once so abundant that its extinction in the early 1900s seemed unthinkable.

In past decades, researchers have documented the decline of particular bird groups, including migratory songbirds. But more recent studies have been broader: covering 529 bird species, about three-quarters of all species in North America, and accounting for more than 90% of the entire bird population.

Skylark numbers have plummeted

Grassland birds have declined by 53% since 1970—a loss of 700 million adults in the 31 species studied, including meadowlarks and northern bobwhites. Shorebirds such as sanderlings and plovers are down by about one-third, the team says. Habitat loss may be to blame.

The familiar birds that flock by the thousands in suburbs were not exempt. Nineteen common species have each lost more than 50 million birds since 1970. Twelve groups, including sparrows, warblers, finches, and blackbirds, were particularly hard hit. Even introduced species that have thrived in North America, such as starlings and house sparrows, are losing ground. Only waterfowl and raptors seem to be thriving, thanks to habitat restoration and other conservation efforts. But the declines in many other species, particularly those living along shorelines and in grasslands, far exceeded those gains.

Pesticides are very probably a factor. Last week, toxicologists described how low doses of neonicotinoids—a common pesticide—made migrating sparrows lose weight and delay their migration, which hurts their chances of surviving and reproducing. Climate change, habitat loss, shifts in food webs, and even cats may all be adding to the problem, and not just for birds.

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US Beekeepers Lost 40% Of Honeybee Colonies Last Year, UMD-Led Survey Finds

US Beekeepers Lost 40% Of Honeybee Colonies Last Year, UMD-Led Survey Finds

Recent budget cuts by the Trump Administration slashed funding for the US Department of Agriculture’s annual Honey Bee Colonies report that has recently detailed a collapse in the bee population across the nation. Now researchers will be observing a new study, one that hasn’t been affected by spending cuts, shows beekeepers lost 40.7% of their bee colonies from April 2018 to April 2019.

The nationwide survey administered by the University of Maryland-led nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership warns of declining honey bee populations, could soon have an impact on food crops because these pollinating insects play a significant role in the pollination of plants.

Survey results reveal the annual loss of 40.7% honey bees, a marginal increase over the yearly average of 38.7%. The study noted that the winter losses were the highest since the survey began 13 years ago.

“These results are very concerning, as high winter losses hit an industry already suffering from a decade of high winter losses,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, associate professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and president for the Bee Informed Partnership.

The survey asked more than 4,700 beekeepers managing 320,000 colonies from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, represents about 12% of the nation’s estimated 2.69 million managed colonies.

One of the most significant concerns respondents had about the winter colony losses is varroa mites, an external parasitic mite that attacks and feeds on the colony. “We are increasingly concerned about varroa mites and the viruses they spread, said vanEngelsdorp. “Last year, many beekeepers reported poor treatment efficacy, and limited field tests showed that products that once removed 90% of mites or more are now removing far fewer. Since these products are no longer working as well, the mite problem seems to be getting worse,” vanEngelsdorp said.

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Bee Roadzz

Bee Roadzz

Transition Marlborough wanted to help save the bees so they started joining up landscapes to connect pollinators and people. 

This is the story of a small, local project to help bees. They are in trouble, along with all flying insects, and we can all do something to help.

There are 25 native species of bumblebee, over 250 species of solitary bee and one species of honeybee in the UK. Many are in decline, but even DEFRA’s 2014 10 year National Pollinator Strategyhighlights that we know very little about many of them, so measuring baselines and progress is a real challenge. Last year German research hit the headlines showing a 75% drop in flying insect biomass over just 27 years across 63 nature protection areas. What a wake-up call.

Sweet William – Sara Wilman, British flower grower,  took this on her ‘My Flower Patch’ field Photo © Sara Wilman

Our four key project aims:
1. Raising awareness of bees and their predicament
2. Encouraging everyone to contribute, however they can, to join up the landscape by creating more pollinator-friendly forage and nesting habitat
3. Actively contributing to national insect monitoring schemes
4. Creating a replicable model of effective community-based response to the National Pollinator Strategy. 

The reasons for decline are complex, multiple and their impact is cumulative. They include loss of diversity and quantity in year-round pollen and nectar-rich flowers, loss of nesting and hibernation habitat, pesticides, habitat fragmentation, climate change, disease and parasites.

Just here in the UK, in the last 60-70 years we have lost 97% of wildflower meadows, 300,000km of established hedgerows and 80% of flower-rich chalk downland. Two species of bumblebee were lost in the mid-late 20th century, eight are currently conservation priorities and two more survive in rare and limited areas.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

This Small Change Increased Bee Populations by 45%

This Small Change Increased Bee Populations by 45%

Scientists in Amsterdam have found ways to help their bee population regain its health. Here's how to implement some of their methods in your community.
For quite some time, scientists across the world have been warning the public about the decline of bees and other pollinators.

We’ve known for years that bee populations all across North America and Europe are collapsing at an alarming rate.

Our very existence relies on the tiny buzzing creatures, as we explained in Will the Extinction of Bees Really Mean the End of Humanity?

This is a huge threat to our food supply. One-third of all the food we eat comes from plants that are pollinated by insects, and 80% of those crops are pollinated by bees. It also has big implications for our meat supply as well: plants (like alfalfa) that feed animals are pollinated by bees.

The largest international survey of insect pollinators found that just 2 percent of wild bee species now account for 80 percent of global crop pollination.

Put bluntly, if all the bees die, humanity will follow.

There is one place where bee populations are growing and flourishing – Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands.

According to a recent report from NBC News, the diversity of wild bee and honeybee species in the Dutch capital has increased by 45 percent since 2000!

The city of 2.3 million people attributes the success to creating bee-friendly environments like the overgrown, sunburnt patch of shrubs that commuters pass by daily.

The installation of “insect hotels” and a ban on the use of chemical pesticides on public land also appear to have played a role.

Geert Timmermans, an ecologist who works for the city, explained that four years ago, Amsterdam set a goal to convert half of all public green spaces to native plants. He added that residents and local businesses are provided with information on how to avoid using pesticides and the use of alternative treatments:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Polyculture Market Garden Study–Results From Year 4–2018

THE POLYCULTURE MARKET GARDEN STUDY – RESULTS FROM YEAR 4 – 2018

HERE ARE THE RESULTS FROM THE FOURTH YEAR OF OUR MARKET GARDEN POLYCULTURE STUDY. THIS STUDY LOOKS AT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GROWING ANNUAL VEGETABLES AND HERBS IN POLYCULTURES VS GROWING THEM IN  TRADITIONAL BLOCKS.

In this post you will find an overview of the trial garden and the polycultures we are growing, a description of what we record and the 4th year results from the trial. You can find results from previous seasons here.

First of all we’d like to say a huge thank you to the team of volunteers that joined us for the study this year and that make it possible for us to carry out our experiments and research. It was a pleasure to work together with you. Thank you Victoria Bezhitashvili, Angela Rice, Malcolm Cannon, Elise Bijl, Alex Camilleri, Daniel Stradner, Emilce Nonquepan, Ezekiel Orba and Chris Kirby Lambert.

It was a great a mix of people from all over the world including university students, a crypto fund manager, ex-nintendo web editor and market gardeners. Thank you all for your valuable input, it was our pleasure to host you and we look forward to seeing you again some day.

The Polyculture Study 2018 Team

GARDEN OVERVIEW

Location: Bulgaria, Shipka
​Climate: Temperate
Köppen Climate Classification – Dfc borderline Cfb
USDA Hardiness Zone: 5b – 7a
Latitude: 42°
Elevation: 565 m
Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5 mm
Prevailing Wind: NW & NE
Garden Name: Aponia – Polyculture Market Garden

 

The six longer beds in the left hand corner of the photo on the right (the Aceaes) are the trial beds, the focus of this study.You can find the location of the Polyculture Market Garden on google maps here (labelled as Aponia on our Project map)

Garden area: 256.8 m2
Cultivated beds area: 165.6 m2
Paths: 50 cm wide – 91.2 m2
Bed Dimensions – 23 m x 1.2 m  Area – 27.6 m2 per bed
Number of beds: 6

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Thoughts From The Precipice

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Thoughts From The Precipice

Things are worsening. But we’re not over the edge quite yet.

As you already know, things are unraveling. The narratives of the past are being revealed as false and fraudulent — even harmful.

For example, the fallacy of pursuing “ever more” growth. Growth up to a point is beneficial, but it turns self-destructive when it exceeds what available resources can sustain.

As it is practiced, economic growth as pursued around the world today is now destructive. If we continue on our current trajectory, it will become fatal.

It already has for an increasing scope of the natural world. Beauty is being ruined. The complex web of life is being shredded. Species loss is accelerating.

This kind of damage is essentially permanent.

Pollinator Collapse

Right now insect ecologists the world over are utterly horrified by the declines in insect populations. “Crashing” is not too strong of a term.

It’s almost as if the Rapture happened; but instead of humans, it’s the insects who were taken.

A healthy, prudent response by a healthy, prudent culture would be to immediately ban any insecticides suspected of contirbuting to the problem. And to swiftly deploy a serious scientific resources into studying the issue.

Nothing of the sort is happening in the US yet. Few other countries are, either; with the exception of France.  This is really positive news:.

France Is The First Country To Ban All Five Bee-Killing Pesticides

Nov 21, 2018

With bees on the endangered list and the terrible consequences that will come to pass if they become extinct, France has taken a drastic step in an attempt to save the population of pollinating insects.

As reported by Organic Consumers, the European nation has decided to ban all five pesticides that scientists believe are responsible for killing bees.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

New Study Suggests Glyphosate Can Kill Bees By Damaging Their Microbiomes

New Study Suggests Glyphosate Can Kill Bees By Damaging Their Microbiomes

We already know that glyphosate – the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide – can damage the human gut by killing beneficial bacteria. Now, an alarming new study has revealed that glyphosate can also damage the guts of honey bees.

The research, conducted at The University of Texas at Austin and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on September 24, shows that honey bees exposed to glyphosate lose some of the beneficial bacteria in their guts. This makes the bees more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria.

Scientists believe this is evidence that glyphosate might be contributing to the years-long decline of honey bees and native bees around the world.

In a press release, the researchers explained their findings:

Because glyphosate interferes with an important enzyme found in plants and microorganisms, but not in animals, it has long been assumed to be nontoxic to animals, including humans and bees. But this latest study shows that by altering a bee’s gut microbiome — the ecosystem of bacteria living in the bee’s digestive tract, including those that protect it from harmful bacteria — glyphosate compromises its ability to fight infection.

To conduct the study, the research team took 2,000 honey bees from hives at the University of Texas campus and fed them either a low dose of glyphosate, a high dose, or a glyphosate-free syrup.

It didn’t take long for glyphosate to cause problems for the bees involved in the study: after only three days of exposure at levels known to occur in crop fields, yards, and roadsides, the herbicide significantly reduced healthy gut microbiota. “Of eight dominant species of healthy bacteria in the exposed bees, four were found to be less abundant. The hardest hit bacterial species, Snodgrassella alvi, is a critical microbe that helps bees process food and defends against pathogens,” the researchers reported.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Will the Extinction of Bees Really Mean the End of Humanity?

Will the Extinction of Bees Really Mean the End of Humanity?

Feared at best and considered a useless, disposable nuisance at worst, bees are among the most underappreciated creatures on the planet.

That’s a shame because our very existence relies on the tiny buzzing creatures.

We’ve known for years that bee populations all across North America and Europe are collapsing at an alarming rate.

This is a huge threat to our food supply. One-third of all the food we eat comes from plants that are pollinated by insects, and 80% of those crops are pollinated by bees. It also has big implications for our meat supply as well: plants (like alfalfa) that feed animals are pollinated by bees.

The largest international survey of insect pollinators found that just 2 percent of wild bee species now account for 80 percent of global crop pollination.

Put bluntly, if all the bees die, humanity will follow.

Worldwide, there are nearly 20,000 known species of bees in seven recognized biological families. Of those, 4,000 calls the United States home. Bees exist on every continent except Antarctica. Wherever you find insect-pollinated, flowering plants you will find bees.

Native bees come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, but one thing they all have in common is their important role as pollinators.

Here are just some of the fruits and veggies bumble bees help pollinate: Squash, pumpkin, zucchini, alfalfa, cranberries, apples, green beans, scarlet beans, runner beans, cucumber, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions, potatoes, blueberries, cherries, kiwifruit, raspberries, blackberries, plums, and melons.

According to a Cornell University study published in 2012, crops pollinated by honeybees and other insects contributed $29 billion to United States farm income in 2010.

As you can see, bees are a crucial part of our ecosystem. Our food supplies – and essentially, our lives – rely on them.

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Who Is Deliberately Killing the Bees?

Who Is Deliberately Killing the Bees?

Last night, my husband attended our beekeeping association meeting. He was looking forward to it all day. Talking with other “bee people” is exciting, chatting about the upcoming spring, opening up the hives after winter, installing new bees, etc. I couldn’t wait for him to come home to with new beekeeping ideas and to see his face light up as he waxed poetic about beekeeping.

Only, that didn’t happen. Instead, he brought back a story that chilled me to my bones about someone deliberately killing the bees just a few towns away from us in Rehoboth, MA.

Just Another Accidental Spraying?

We read about the bee deaths when it happened. Early reports seemed to suggest this was yet another case of farmers in the vicinity being irresponsible with chemicals. That may have been what investigators originally suspected, as hypothesized by Eric Pilotte, the president of the Bristol County Beekeepers Association. In this interview, Pilotte spoke of how bees can forage up to three miles away and may have brought back poisoned pollen and nectar to the hive.

“All indications are it was some type of pesticide or insecticide that’s the culprit,” Pilotte said. “In this case, they were able to bring back some of those contaminants and I think that’s what spread like wildfire through the hive.”

Fellow association member, entomologist and retired superintendent of the Bristol County Mosquito Control Project, Wayne Andrews, thought it had to have happened “closer to home“.

Andrews said bees can fly as far as three or four miles in search of food and water but he suspects the Rehoboth bees consumed the poison closer to home, likely no more than a mile away.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Honeybees: A holistic perspective on a superorganism

It is a great privilege to call myself a beekeeper. Having bees in my life, constantly reminds me to notice the sheer wonder of the world around me and often leaves me with a visceral sense of my place within this world. Honeybees have seen a dramatic rise in public awareness and beekeeping has exponentially increased in popularity, however the mindset of industrial farming is still alarmingly prevalent in beekeeping practice, and how it is discussed and taught to the next generation of beekeepers.

I trained as a beekeeper about 10 years ago, and when I started I had already completed training as an organic grower. As I studied beekeeping, I was alarmed at the similarities between the methods I was being taught and the mindset of industrial farming. I was unsettled by some of the practices that seemed to be very common. Routine use of miticide within the hive, routine disturbance of the nest space, routine suppression of reproduction and routine sugar feeding, all seemed at odds with what I had learnt as an organic grower. A defining moment was a visit to a teaching apiary to inspect the bees. We opened the hives and carefully checked through the brood nest, the area where the young bees are developing, if we found any developing queens we would kill them. Our presence obviously disturbed the bees who defended their nest space, in hive after hive that we opened, by attacking us. The bees were clearly communicating the threat they felt and I was struck by the violence of this process which was charged with conflict – even putting on the beekeeper’s suit had the feel of preparing for battle. There was a clear cognitive dissonance between this experience and my imagined harmony between beekeeper and bees.

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Degraded Land Impacts the Metabolism of Local Bees

Bee´s in front of a stock

DEGRADED LAND IMPACTS THE METABOLISM OF LOCAL BEES

According to a study conducted by Kings Park and Botanic Garden, Curtin University, and the University of Western Australia, when human impact leaves bees with a lack of food, they don’t make an effort to forage further from home – instead, they start to depend on food sources stored inside the hive.

Bees were numbered and distributed among six hives north of Perth, at the Gnangara Mound. Three hives were located in healthy woodlands with plenty of available food, and the other three hives were only 5km away, in a section of degraded land that had been ravaged by fire. Don Bradshaw, a professor with UWA’s School of Biological Sciences, said the study measured the metabolic rate of the bees to determine how human-initiated change to the environment, like the clearing of large sections of land, would impact the insect’s survival.

The results of the study revealed that the bees from the desolate landscape showed a 30 per cent decrease in metabolism, as well as a 60 per cent lower intake of nectar. These findings were the opposite of what Bradshaw said he had anticipated, which was that the bees in degraded areas would have a faster metabolism – as a result of having to travel further to find food.

Degraded Land Impacts The Metabolism Of Local Bees 01

“Rather than travel in search of food in degraded areas, the bees foraged less and depended on stored resources inside the hive,” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw’s method for determining the metabolic rate of the 76 numbered bees used for the study was initially developed for a study on honey possums.

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The Newest Strategy For Saving Bees Is Really, Really Old

With pollinators in decline around the world, conservationists turn to traditional farmers for answers.
Asian apis cerana honeybeePhoto by budak (Flickr/Creative Commons) 

For centuries beehives have been part of the architecture of mountain homes here, built into the thick outside walls. Traditionally wild colonies of bees found the hive themselves, or farmers brought a log with a hive in it from the surrounding forest so the inhabitants could set up shop in the village and produce honey for their human caretakers.

But in recent years those wild colonies have become increasingly rare in this valley, where 90 percent of farmers are small landholders. Modern agriculture has replaced natural forests and the diverse crops of subsistence farms almost exclusively with a single apple variety: royal delicious, favored at the market. Producing this high-demand fruit has improved economic conditions for farmers in the Kullu Valley. But it also has contributed to an untenable environment for pollinators. Similar to other situations around the world, a mix of monocropping, climate change, diseases, changes in land practices, pesticide use, deforestation, loss of habitat and an exploding human population that’s taxing the valley’s natural resources has caused native honeybee populations to decline. With the decline, orchard harvests have dropped by as much as 50 percent.

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Bee battles: why our native pollinators are losing the war

Bumble bee. Photo credit: dnydick, CC BY-NC

As global commerce grows, the movement of goods is occurring at ever-faster rates. And with increased global trade comes the spread of non-native species. This includes invasive insects that are making life difficult for domestic bees.

Non-native species get introduced both intentionally and accidentally. However they migrate, though, their spread can lead to devastating results. Non-native species can dramatically reshape their invaded habitats and disrupt the interactions between native species.

After direct habitat loss, invasive species are the second greatest threat to biodiversity. Biodiversity is crucial to a healthy ecosystem, providing us services such as food, the natural resources that sustain our current lifestyle, and the building blocks of medicines.

Invasive species come in all forms – plants, animals and microbes – but all share common traits: they are non-native, they are increasing in prevalence, and they negatively affect native species.

Native bees in North America are declining drastically. Habitat loss is the number one reason for bee decline, with pesticide use, invasive species, and climate change also playing a major role. With the growth of cities and farms, habitat suitable for our native bees shrinks. And with competition and habitat degradation from invasive species, suitable habitat becomes even less.

We depend on native bees, like our humble bumble bees (Bombus spp.), to pollinate native flowers and crops. Bumble bees pollinate tomatoes, peppers, blueberries and many more of our favorite food items. Honey bees, which are widely used in agriculture and are suffering from colony collapse disorder, are a non-native species, and can’t replace the pollination services provided by native bees such as bumble bees.

But one invasive species in particular is threatening the livelihood of bumble bees.

 

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Albert Einstein, Soil, Honey Bees and Biodiversity.

Albert Einstein, Soil, Honey Bees and Biodiversity.

Among the manifold quotes that are attributed to Albert Einstein, are variants along the lines of:

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

and

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

Whether it was in fact the author and originator of “Relativity” (both special and general) and the “Photoelectric Effect”, the latter of which, from his Annus mirablis, won him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921, is disputed, “http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/08/27/einstein-bees/, nonetheless, Einstein was a man of great awareness, as might be summarised by his more provenly attributable quote, to the effect that: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins121993.html The latter axiom is indeed true.

There is a tendency for humans to perceive ill occurrences as unconnected events, rather as the Biblical plagues of Egypt: water into blood, frogs, lice, wild animals or flies, deceased livestock, boils, storms of fire, locusts, darkness and death of the firstborn. Scientists now believe that these events really happened, but they were in fact all results of a single cause: not the wrath of a punitive God, but climate changehttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/7530678/Biblical-plagues-really-happened-say-scientists.html.

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Suicide By Pesticide

Suicide By Pesticide

What the honey bee die-off means for humanity
As you are aware, honey bees have been suffering from something called Colony Collapse Disorder. In practice, what this means is that the bees simply vanish from their hives, leaving behind their most precious worldly possessions: honey and larvae.

What causes these mysterious vanishing acts has been something of a mystery. But because the phenomenon began really ramping up in 2006, we can focus in on some suspects.

While it’s always possible that the bees are suffering ‘death from a thousand cuts’ — where it’s no one specific thing but rather a wide range of minor insults, ranging from loss of forage to herbicides to fungicides to pesticides — there’s actually quite strong evidence pointing to a specific class of pesticides calledneonicotinoids.

This class of pesticides is massively and indiscriminately toxic. More specific to our investigation here, it was only introduced into widespread use shortly before the massive bee die-offs began.

Biocide = Suicide

Actually, it’s not really proper to call neonicotinoids ‘pesticides’ because they don’t solely target pests. They should more accurately be called ‘biocides’ because they kill all insects equally and indiscriminately.

How toxic are they?

The neonics are so toxic that it’s sufficient to simply lightly coat a seed with it before planting. When the seed grows to maturity, the plant will still have enough absorbed toxin circulating within its system to kill any insect that munches on it or sucks on its sap.

Think about that for a minute. Coat a kernel of corn with a neonic, sow it, and the mature plant will still be lethal to a corn borer when the corn ears develop several months later.

But not just to insects:

 

“A single corn kernel coated with a neonicotinoid can kill a song bird.” As a long time environmental lawyer and campaigner, I should not have been stunned by that fact but I was. Shaking my head in dismay, I read on, “Even a tiny grain of wheat or canola treated with the …neonicotinoid… can fatally poison a bird.”

(Source)

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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