The Virginia Coast Reserve is the longest stretch of wilderness along the nation’s entire Atlantic coastline. As it embarks on its next half-century, the Virginia Coast Reserve stands out as one of the most important living laboratories in the world, having piloted community-based conservation, contributed landmark migratory bird research and pioneered techniques for restoring critical habitats such as oyster reefs and seagrass meadows, the Virginia Coast Reserve continues to produce groundbreaking science and innovative conservation. Read about it HERE.
3/26/2020 Entomology Today
If you cleared fallen leaves from your lawn last fall, did you deposit them along the edge of your lawn, where grass meets woods? If you did, you might have unwittingly created an ideal habitat for blacklegged ticks.
In areas of the United States where ticks that carry Lyme disease-causing bacteria are prevalent, residential properties often intermingle with forested areas, and ticks thrive in the “edge habitats” where lawn and woods meet. While many homeowners heed the advice to clear their lawns of fallen leaves in autumn to avoid creating tick-friendly habitat in high-use areas, a new study on tick abundance in leaf litter says raking or blowing leaves just out to the forest edge is not enough.
“Our study showed that the common fall practice of blowing or raking leaves removed from lawns and landscaping to the immediate lawn/woodland edges can result in a three-fold increase in blacklegged tick numbers in these areas the following spring,” says Robert Jordan, Ph.D., research scientist at the Monmouth County (New Jersey) Mosquito Control Division and co-author of the study published today in the Journal of Medical Entomology
Instead, Jordan and co-author Terry Schulze, Ph.D., an independent medical entomologist, suggest homeowners either take advantage of municipal curbside leaf pickup (if available), compost their leaves, or remove leaves to a location further into the woods or further away from high-use areas on their property. “The thing homeowners need to keep in mind is that accumulations of leaves and other plant debris provide ideal host-seeking and survival conditions for immature blacklegged ticks,” says Jordan.
In their new study, Jordan and Schulze set up test plots on three residential properties in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in the fall of 2017 and 2018. Each property had plots at both the forest edge and deeper within the wooded area. Some edge plots were allowed to accumulate leaves naturally, while others received additional leaves via periodic raking or leaf blowing. These “managed” edge plots resulted in leaf-litter depths two to three times that of the natural edge and forest plots.
The researchers then compared the presence of nymphal (juvenile) blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) and lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanum) in the test plots the following spring. In both years, the results for lone star tick nymphs were inconsistent, but the number of blacklegged tick nymphs in the managed edge plots was approximately three times that of the natural edge and forest plots.
“While we expected to see more ticks along lawn edges with deeper leaf-litter accumulation, we were surprised about the magnitude of the increase in ticks that resulted from leaf blowing or raking,” Jordan says. Fallen leaves provide blacklegged ticks with suitable habitat via higher humidity and lower temperatures within the leaf litter, as well as protection from exposure over winter. Previous research, meanwhile, has shown that people more commonly encounter ticks on their own properties than in parks or natural areas. And that, Jordan says, is a major reason why he and Schulze have been evaluating a variety of residential tick-prevention strategies in recent years. Landscape management is an important—and affordable—strategy to keep ticks at bay, he says. “On properties with considerable leaf fall, the best option would be complete removal of leaves from areas most frequently used–such as lawns, outdoor seating areas, and in and around play sets,” Jordan says. “If this is not possible or practical, leaf piles should be placed in areas least frequently used.
Where neither of these options is possible, or where leaf fall is minimal, mulching in place may be a good option, since this encourages rapid decomposition of leaves, which may reduce habitat suitability for ticks.”
By Jeremy Cox on March 18, 2020, Bay Journal
In Virginia, climate change is about as welcome as ants at a picnic. But across a portion of the state’s southeast, ants are part of the problem.
Since 1960, the annual average temperature in Virginia Beach, the region’s most populated city, has risen about 3 degrees, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That warming trend has opened the door for fire ants — normally living in more southerly areas — to gain a stubborn foothold in the state, Virginia agricultural officials say.
And it’s growing larger.
“It’s an unfortunate side effect” of climate change, said Eric Day, a Virginia Tech extension entomologist. “We have warmer winters and warmer summers, so it certainly makes for good conditions for fire ants.”
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced in December that it was expanding its fire ant quarantine to five new counties and two separate cities. With the addition, the quarantine now spans one or two counties deep along the North Carolina border from just west of Interstate 95 east to the Atlantic Ocean, an area nearly the size of Connecticut.
The quarantine applies to both the black and red fire ant varieties, but the red is more commonly seen in Virginia, officials say. Both damage crops and deliver a nasty sting.
Since their accidental transmittal from South America to the United States in the 1930s, red fire ants have spread across most of the Southeast from the marshy tip of Florida to the windswept plains of Oklahoma.
When the first fire ant infestation was discovered in Virginia in 1989, agricultural officials blamed the interstate trade of plants and sod. They grew so widespread that by 2009 the state announced its first quarantine in the Hampton Roads region.
It has become clear with their continued spread westward along the state’s southern border in recent years that colonies are now marching up from the South on their own, Day said. That shift points for the first time away from humans as a cause for their proliferation in the state and toward a new climate reality, he added.
Fire ants resemble garden-variety ants, making them difficult to spot, experts say. Tell-tale signs of their presence are their mounds, which can reach up to 2 feet high and damage farm equipment. The ants themselves prey on corn, soybeans and other crops, causing further headaches for farmers.
Their sting, though, may be their defining attribute. Anyone who unwittingly wanders into a nest typically emerges with a foot or leg stippled with burning welts that turn into itchy, white pimples that last for days. In extremely rare cases, the victim can suffer deadly anaphylactic shock.
Christopher Brown, who works in purchasing and product development for the Lancaster Farms plant nursery in Suffolk, knows the sensation all too well. “It’s not like getting stung by a bee where it’s one sting and that’s it,” he said. “When you get bitten by a fire ant, you’re going to get bit five to 10 times depending on how long it takes you to realize you stepped on a fire ant mound.”
Suffolk was one of the first areas to be quarantined in 2009. The designation prohibits transporting anything that can carry fire ants out of the area unless it is certified as ant-free. Regulated items include gardening soil, plants, sod, used farm equipment and freshly cut timber.
At Lancaster Farms, workers blend an insecticide called Talstar into their pine bark potting material to kill any ants that may be there, Brown said. It takes a few cents’ worth of the chemical to treat each pot, he estimated; a 15-gallon pot includes about 10-cents’ worth. That expense adds up quickly because the nursery churns out hundreds of thousands of plants each year. “It’s a cost of business,” Brown said.
Fire ants are at the vanguard of an army of pests expected to trudge northward as fossil fuel emissions continue heat up the planet during this century. A U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored study in 2005 predicted that warming temperatures will increase the “habitable area” for red fire ants by 21% by the end of this century, pushing their upper boundary about 80 miles northward. By some time between 2080–89, fire ants could occupy a swath of Virginia as far west as Roanoke and stretching along a line bearing northeast toward the District of Columbia, according to the study. Maryland and Delaware can expect to see their first invasions by that time as well, it says.
Fire ants in VA
By Elizabeth Preston © 2020 The New York Times
Are humans the only animals that caucus? As the early 2020 presidential election season suggests, there are probably more natural and efficient ways to make a group choice. But we're certainly not the only animals on Earth that vote. We're not even the only primates that primary.
Any animal living in a group needs to make decisions as a group, too. Even when they don't agree with their companions, animals rely on one another for protection or help finding food. So they have to find ways to reach consensus about what the group should do next, or where it should live. While they may not conduct continent-spanning electoral contests like Super Tuesday, species ranging from primates all the way to insects have methods for finding agreement that are surprisingly democratic.
As meerkats start each day, they emerge from their burrows into the sunlight, then begin searching for food. Each meerkat forages for itself, digging in the dirt for bugs and other morsels, but they travel in loose groups, each animal up to about 30 feet from its neighbors, says Marta Manser, an animal-behavior scientist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Nonetheless, the meerkats move as one unit, drifting across the desert while they search and munch.
The meerkats call to one another as they travel. One of their sounds is a gentle mew that researchers refer to as a "move call:' It seems to mean, "I'm about ready to move on from this dirt patch. Who's with me?"
In a 2010 study, Manser and her colleagues studied move calls in a dozen meerkat groups living in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. Groups ranged from six to 19 individuals. But the scientists found that only about three group members had to mew before the whole party decided to move along. The group didn't change direction, but it would double its speed to reach better foraging grounds.
Biologists call this phenomenon - when animals change their behavior in response to a critical mass of their peers doing something - a quorum response. Manser thinks quorum responses show up in human decision-making, too.
"If you're in a group and somebody says, 'Let's go for a pizza; and nobody joins in, nothing's going to happen;' she said. But if the pizza craver is joined by a couple of friends, their argument becomes much more convincing.
In the spring, you may discover a swarm of bees dangling from a tree branch like a dangerous bunch of grapes. These insects are in the middle of a tough real estate decision. When a honeybee colony splits in two, a queen and several thousand workers fly away from a hive together. The swarm finds someplace to pause for hours or days while a few hundred scouts fan out to search for a new home. When a scout finds a promising hole or hollow, she inspects it thoroughly. Then she flies back to the swarm, still buzzing on its tree branch. Walking on the swarm's surface, she does a waggling, repetitive dance that tells the other bees about the site she found - its quality, direction and how far away it is.
More scouts return to the swarm and do their own dances. Gradually, some of the scouts become persuaded by others, and switch their choreography to match. Once every scout agrees, the swarm flies off to its new home.
In his 2010 book "Honeybee Democracy;' Thomas D. Seeley, a Cornell University biologist, writes that we can learn a lesson from the bees: "Even in a group composed of friendly individuals with common interests, conflict can be a useful element in a decision-making process:'
African wild dog
Like pet dogs, African wild dogs spend some of their time enthusiastically socializing and some of it lazing around. Members of a pack jump up and greet one another in high-energy rituals called rallies. After a rally, the dogs may move off together to start a hunt - or they may go back to resting. In a 2017 study, researchers discovered that the decision to hunt or stay seems to be democratic. To cast a vote for hunting, the dogs sneeze.
The more sneezes there were during a rally, the more likely the dogs were to begin hunting afterward. If a dominant dog had gotten the rally started, the pack was easier to persuade - just three sneezes might do the trick. But if a subordinate dog started the rally, it took a minimum of 10 sneezes to prompt a hunt.
The researchers note that dogs might actually cast their votes via some other hidden signal. The sneezes could help the animals clear out their noses and get ready to sniff for prey. Either way, the wild dogs end their achoo-ing with a decision they all agree on.
Primates, our closest relatives, have provided lots of material for researchers studying how groups make decisions. Scientists have seen gibbons following female leaders, mountain gorillas grunting when they're ready to move and capuchins trilling to one another.
Sometimes the process is more subtle. A group may move across the landscape as a unit without any obvious signals from individuals about where they'd like to go next. To figure out how wild olive baboons manage this, the authors of a 2015 paper put GPS collars on 25 members of one troop in Kenya. They monitored the monkeys' every step for two weeks. Then they studied the movements of each individual baboon in numerous combinations to see who was pulling the group in new directions. The data showed that any baboon might start moving away from the others as if to draw them on a new course - male or female, dominant or subordinate. When multiple baboons moved in the same direction, others were even more likely to come along.
When there was disagreement, with trailblazing baboons moving in totally different directions, others would eventually follow the majority. But if two would-be leaders were tugging in directions less than 90 degrees apart, followers would compromise on a middle path. No matter what, the whole group ended up together.
Ariana Strandburg-Peshkin, an animal-behavior researcher at the University of Konstanz in Germany who led the baboon study, points out that unlike in human groups, among baboons no one authority tallies up votes and announces the result. The outcome emerges naturally. But the same kind of subtle consensus-building can be part of our voting process, too. "For instance, we might influence one another's decisions on who to vote for in the lead-up to an election, before any ballots are cast;' she said.
By Erin Blakemore
March 14, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. EDT
Bee hotels — boxes promoted as good nesting places. “Bee-friendly” farming techniques behind favorite foods.
Are the claims true — or just honey-drenched hype? Lila Westreich, a bee researcher at the University of Washington, says companies take advantage of well-intentioned consumers by “bee-washing.”
The term, first coined by researchers in 2015, refers to greenwashing, in this case a marketing strategy that makes a product or practice seem beneficial to threatened bees. (Greenwashing evolved from the term whitewashing and means an environmental spin.) In The Conversation, Westreich writes that the practice can actually hurt bees.
Bee hotels are advertised as safe nests for bees, for example, but some may be dangerous. The welfare of honeybees may be overemphasized, misleading the public about environmental priorities.
Wild native bees are at particular risk. Of the 20,000 or so bee species in the world, only about 4,000 are native to North America — the bumblebee among them. These bees don’t produce honey, and they’re less sociable and well-known than their so-sweet counterparts.
The majority of American bees don’t produce honey. Honey bees came to the United States from Europe. Kelsey K. Graham, another bee researcher, calls them the “chickens of the bee world” because they are so domesticated.
Unlike hive-dwelling honeybees, which are carefully bred, imported to the country for use in crop pollination and managed, the majority of native bees are solitary and nest underground. They reportedly pollinate up to 80 percent of plants, including many crops.
They’re also at risk: In a 2017 study, the Center for Biological Diversity found that more than 50 percent of North American native bee species are declining; 24 percent are threatened with extinction.
Native bees are threatened by climate change, habitat depletion and pesticide use — but honey bees get most of the publicity.
“While many people are worried about honey bees, it’s also important to understand the jeopardy that native bees face,” Westreich writes. “Companies and organizations use bee-washing to boost their image, taking advantage of the public’s lack of knowledge of native bees.”
By bragging about how they help honey bees, notes Westreich, they play down the importance of native species that, unlike honey bees, are actually endangered. They also play up their solutions, such as bee hotels, that can hurt bees by spreading disease.
Ready to inoculate yourself against misleading claims about bees? Read Westreich’s article at bit.ly/beewashing
By Berni Olson
March 3, 2020
About a month ago I saw the movie Beaver Believers. Great movie if you have the opportunity to see it. As I was leaving the thought occurred to me that so much of our environment is now managed. The movie showed how beavers had to be relocated if they were in the “wrong” area or creating dams in the wrong places or damming up areas that would interfere with us humans. There was one woman who rescued beavers and it was amazing how she would take those beavers in her arms and love on them.
Last week at our county park, we installed five Bluebird boxes. Again I thought about how we now manage Bluebirds- we build them boxes, make sure snakes, raccoons and house sparrow don’t mess with them, check in with them once a week and provide cleaning services after the babes have fledged. The Bluebirds are counted and watched and well managed. We’ve managed them so well they are now thriving which leads me to another point that I will make just briefly- I think it’s time to move onto another species that needs to be managed and helped to thrive. I believe the Loggerhead Shrike could use our help.
Also at our lovely county park, two pollinator gardens have been installed. Again, the word manage comes to mind as we park volunteers discuss when and if we should “clean-up” last year’s dead materials or if we should leave the gardens alone. The discussion continues on as to if we should maybe even leave it half and half to see what would happen. A large plan of the entire park has been created- of how we want it to look. Overall it’s a good thing these pollinator gardens- they are great ambassadors to the general public and those who don’t know about native plants or bees, wasps, ants, and birds and everything else that keeps the gardens humming.
I work for a Land Trust and all easements are encouraged to have a forest “management” plan. We had one couple who wanted nothing done with their forest. They only wanted invasives removed if that were to help the forest. The couple had to insist on not having a plan and did not want it managed. They won. On many of the easements when a plan is in place anything that may be done to that forest has to go through the plan. Understandable and a good idea and at the same time there’s that word- manage.
About a month ago I also saw the movie, “Jeremiah Johnson”. I walked out of the movie wanting to go and get on my mule and make my way in the wilderness. Fat chance- there’s no place to do that anymore. I pretend when I go out into the woods and surrounding farmland. I pretend I’m exploring for the first time. Sometimes I run into bears- now they are wild- and my mule thinks they are wild. He becomes a bit wild when he sees them. They, the bears get managed if they get to close to humans and invade our space. My friend whom I viewed the movie with said you can still go out to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area- why yes you can for a visit- not to live- it is a managed area. I’m happy to report that around 1 million acres is home to the largest population of grizzly bears outside of Alaska. I could put my mule in a trailer and head to the “Bob” as it is called and I wouldn’t have to pretend until I had to come home again.
Today, I was giving grief to the various invasive species, I have all of them, on the property. Top on my list was Bittersweet. I think there is a cosmic joke here- we can hardly manage the invasives that have invaded our countryside -think about Kudzu- it is wild! And guess what the best manager of Kudzu is- goats- they can consume an acre a day. Ironically invasives seem to be wild- we have a tough time managing some of them and some are downright dangerous, enough to make you have nightmares.
So what’s my point today? I’m grieving a bit that there is no more “wild” left-- everything is managed. I seek out places – this year I am climbing to all the peaks in Rappahannock County—to fulfill this need to be in the wild, to see the wild and to be with the wild-- at least temporarily. I feel peaceful there in the wild, I relax a little more, my mind rests and I’m detached from world that’s managed – at least temporarily. Will there be any wild left in 100 years?
Below are two articles, one from the Washington Post (submitted by Charlene Uhl) and one from the Audubon Society (submitted by Bonnie Beers) that talk about how we can assist insect populations and feed birds properly. Must reads for backyard naturalists!
Welcome bugs into your yard
When It's Okay (or Not) to Feed Birds
by Jeff Stehm
On a trip to London's Natural History Museum this week, I had the opportunity to capture some photos of the early naturalists that lead the way.
Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820) was an English naturalist. He took part in Captain James Cook's first great voyage (1768–1771), visiting Brazil, Tahiti, and after 6 months in New Zealand, Australia, returning to immediate fame. Below is a photo I took at the Natural History Museum of one of Joseph Banks' herberium sheets from that voyage with Cook - 350 years old....amazing! He is credited for bringing 30,000 plant specimens home with him; amongst them, he discovered 1,400. He help found and held the position of president of the Royal Society for over 41 years.
William 'Strata' Smith (1769–1839) was an English geologist, credited with creating the first detailed, nationwide geological map of any country. At the time his map was first published he was overlooked by the scientific community; his relatively humble education and family connections prevented him from mixing easily in learned society. Financially ruined, Smith spent time in debtors' prison. It was only late in his life that Smith received recognition for his accomplishments, and became known as the "Father of English Geology".
A fascinating book about Smith is Simon Winchester's The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology
Mary Anning (1799–1847) was an English fossil collector, dealer, and palaeontologist who became known around the world for important finds she made in Jurassic marine fossil beds in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis in the county of Dorset in Southwest England. Her findings contributed to important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.
An enjoyable historical fiction book about Mary Anning is Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures
Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) needs little introduction as a naturalist. His co-discovery of evolution by natural selection with Alfred Russel Wallace (see below) is well-known.
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 – 1913) was a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, biologist and illustrator. He is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection; his paper on the subject was jointly published with some of Charles Darwin's writings in 1858.This prompted Darwin to publish his own ideas in On the Origin of Species. Like Darwin, Wallace did extensive fieldwork; first in the Amazon River basin, and then in the Malay Archipelago, where he identified the faunal divide now termed the Wallace Line, which separates the Indonesian archipelago into two distinct parts: a western portion in which the animals are largely of Asian origin, and an eastern portion where the fauna reflect Australasia. He was considered the 19th century's leading expert on the geographical distribution of animal species and is sometimes called the "father of biogeography".
Science Magazine and the Guardian
Climate change could increase bumble bees’ extinction risk as temperatures and precipitation begin to exceed
species’ historically observed tolerances. A new study adds to a growing body of evidence for alarming, widespread losses of biodiversity and for rates of global change that now exceed the critical limits of ecosystem resilience.
Read more about this topic here and here, or read the research study here.
Twenty-Year Study Shows How Climate and Habitat Change Impact One Mantid Species
By Paige Embry, Entomology Today
Ask someone what they know about praying mantids and chances are they’ll bring up the female biting the male’s
head off during mating. It happens, albeit only about 17 percent of the time, but those deaths can be a surprisingly
useful tool when studying mantid population changes over time. It’s one of the pieces of information tracked by
Lawrence Hurd, Ph.D., a professor of biology at Washington and Lee University, during a 20-year study
(1999-2018) of Tenodera aridifolia sinensis, the Chinese praying mantid.
The results were published in January in Annals of the Entomological Society of America.
In the last few years, studies finding widespread declines in insect abundance have made headlines. Hurd’s
long-term study uses one insect in one northern Virginia field to show how such declines can happen. Although the study only followed one species, Hurd and coauthorsnote that the findings should apply to other insects and spiders with a similar life cycle.
For this study, Hurd made good use of his resources. He had an insect of unusual size (7-10 centimeters) that beginners (his college ecology lab students) could easily recognize and catch. He also had a nearby field beginning its natural succession, which functioned as a laboratory because the mantids couldn’t easily escape from it. No other suitable fields were close by, and the mantids aren’t very mobile.
Five times between 1999 and 2018, on approximately the same day in September, Hurd sent his students across the
field in a “skirmish line” to collect, mark, and note every possible T. a. sinensis. Hurd writes in an email, “I always
try to base it [the class] on gathering good, usable data instead of just make-work data collection on a question that
has already been answered.”
To assess the reproductive success of the mantids, they went back after the first frost to collect the oothecae (eggs
laid in a gooey substance that hardens into a protective case). They brought the oothecae back to the lab, weighed them, and then returned them to the field. For the oothecae found on the stems of herbaceous plants, that meant “tying [them] on with sewing thread run through the dried foam surrounding the eggs.” Mantids do well in flowery fields with lots of arthropod prey. When succession trends in an area lead to more trees, the population of mantids should shrink. Over the 20 years of this study, two-thirds of the open field area was replaced by trees, and the number of mantids decreased dramatically.
However, succession was not the only factor impacting the mantids—climate change was as well. When a Chinese praying mantid lays her eggs, the sex ratio is even. By the time the mantids reach adulthood, males outnumber females. Once mating begins, the percentage of males starts to fall, prey to the females as well as any other
predators in the field. Eventually, the females become more common. Even though Hurd and the students sampled on essentially the same calendar day (September 12, 13, or 14) each year, they found that the proportion of males to the total population declined from more than 60 percent in 1999 to about 25 percent in 2018, showing that the mantids were further along in their life cycle.
It’s no surprise. For the last 40 years the growing season in northern Virginia has gotten longer and the summers hotter, so the mantids both hatch and reach maturity earlier. This means that some eggs may hatch before frost can put them into diapause, leading to death of the young nymphs and potentially adding to the population losses caused by the successional change.
In 2018, Hurd and his students found only three oothecae. In the fall of 2019, he saw no mantids, and found no oothecae after the first frost.
This study demonstrates the potential double whammy of habitat loss—even a naturally occurring one—and climate change. Hurd writes, “People are becoming worried about having to include insects in the mass extinction episode that many (including me) feel is already underway.” He says when he talks about this, people often respond with, “‘We gotta worry about bugs, too?'”
Unfortunately, as this study illustrates, the answer to that question is “yes.”
Find this article in Entomology Today here.
Find other articles on declines in insects and biodiversity on the Reading Corner page.
World’s fireflies threatened by habitat loss and light pollution, experts warn
Lightning bugs cannot signal to one another to mate if there’s too much light at night.
By Ben Guarino
Feb. 3, 2020 at 12:22 p.m. EST
(shared by Charlene Uhl, Class X)
Nearly 2,000 species of fireflies flit, crawl and sparkle across the planet. Some of these lightning bugs are doing fine. Others are not.
A survey of 49 of the world’s firefly experts, published Monday in the journal BioScience, has identified the most serious threats to the animals. Habitat loss, in almost all of the regions surveyed, is a problem. Other threats include artificial light, which disturbs their mating rituals; pesticides, which can harm the insects or their invertebrate prey; and water pollution, for species that have an aquatic stage.
The report is not a census of the world’s firefly population. But it is “the very first time that we’ve gathered information — this is based on expert opinion — about what the most prominent threats are to the fireflies in different parts of the world,” said study author Sara M. Lewis, a biologist at Tufts University.
“For the last decade or more, people have been anecdotally reporting that they’re not seeing fireflies where they used to,” Lewis said. “Good census data over the past few decades” exists for some species, such as Malaysia’s synchronous fireflies and the common European glowworm, Lewis said. “We know that those populations are, in fact, declining.”
Elsewhere, however, firefly literature remains “kind of obscure,” she said, and the research community is relatively small.
This poll of firefly experts was the “next best thing” to traveling back in time to count firefly populations, said University of Florida entomologist Marc Branham, who was not a member of the research team. He has been told many anecdotes of missing fireflies. And often, he said, they’re believable. Fields once full of flashing insects “are so obvious, in a sort of a sad sense,” when the light vanishes, he said.
“One of the things we’ve kind of taken for granted is that fireflies will always be here,” said naturalist Ben Pfeiffer, founder of the nonprofit Firefly Conservation & Research organization and one of the firefly experts who was surveyed. “And we’ve been terribly wrong about that.”
In 2018, the International Union for Conservation of Nature created the Firefly Specialist Group, co-chaired by Lewis, to determine whether certain firefly species should be listed as threatened or endangered. “That’s something we’ve never seen happen for a firefly species,” Fitchburg State University biologist Christopher Cratsley said. Cratsley was not a member of the study team.
The survey, Lewis said, represents a first step in that process. She cautioned that “we don’t know what the relative importance of these threats to fireflies are. We only know the ranking of what firefly experts believe.”
A contrast in firefly health is evident in the eastern United States. There, Photinus pyralis -- also known as the big dipper firefly, for the dipping J-shape path the beetle makes as it flies — remains a common sight at dusk. “It’s a very weedy species. It’s a habitat generalist,” Lewis said. These fireflies swoop over rural meadows and the streetside gardens of the District. “We’re lucky that we have some fireflies that are probably going to be just fine.”
Due east of the nation’s capital, however, the situation is dire for the Bethany Beach firefly. That insect, which produces bright green double-flashes, lives only in Delaware’s coastal freshwater wetlands. Residential development has imperiled the species, and in May the Center for Biological Diversity and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned the Interior Department to add the firefly to the Endangered Species List.
Artificial light at night can confuse the fireflies and glowworms that use bioluminescence for mating rituals. In the United Kingdom, female glowworms climb up to perch at the tips of vegetation and glow to attract males. “A number of different studies have shown that artificial light in a glowworm habitat actually prevents the males from finding the females,” Lewis said.
Background illumination can also mess up the animals’ sense of timing. “I’ve seen fireflies in New York City that begin courting at like 4 in the afternoon in the summertime, which is not the right time,” Lewis said.
In countries such as Japan, Malaysia and the United States — particularly where there are synchronous firefly displays, like the Smoky Mountains — firefly tourism attracts about 200,000 visitors per year, Lewis estimated. Well-meaning tourists may not realize they are endangering the animals they wish to appreciate. “If you have a lot of people who are tromping through the firefly’s habitat, they’re stepping on larvae” or flightless females, she said.
Some places have taken precautions against trampling feet and have developed firefly sanctuaries with elevated footpaths. A recently enlarged firefly preserve in New Canaan, Conn., is the first of its kind in North America, Cratsley said, at least as far as he was aware.
“The land trust was immediately adjacent to a large mansion — a beautiful home,” he said, of his visit in summer 2019. “But you could go from being surrounded by fireflies to a complete dead zone, of nothing, in that manicured lawn.”
The firefly experts encouraged people to join monitoring groups such as Firefly Watch, a citizen-science project run by Mass Audubon that has partnered with Cratsley, Lewis and other researchers.
“If people are willing to spend five or 10 minutes each week out in their backyard figuring out what kind of fireflies they have and then counting their flashes,” Lewis said, “we think we could begin to gather the kind of long-term data that we need to figure out what species are in trouble.”
Where Light Pollution Is Seeping Into the Rural Night Sky (click here)
by Jeff Stehm
We are often caught up in the here and now, or at best, think only in human time scales. But have you ever wondered about what Shenandoah National Park looked like millennia ago or might look like a millennium in the future?
Shenandoah National Park today hosts a rich Appalachian Oak forest consisting of hickory, maple, and tulip poplar, with oak as the dominant tree species. Pine predominates on warmer southwestern faces of the southernmost hillsides. In cooler areas with northeastern aspects, small, dense stands of moisture loving hemlocks exist.
The average annual temperature in the Park is about 46.5°F at Big Meadows (located in the north central area of the Park), and ranged from about 44°F to a little over 50°F over the last 75 years.
Forty-five thousand years ago it was a very different place. North America was in the midst of the last throws of the ice age. Temperatures fluctuated (over centuries) from cold to warm and back again. Litwin et al. (2004) estimated that the mean annual temperatures around Big Meadows varied about 20°F over the 45,000 year period, ranging from about 35°F to 55°F. In today’s climatic terms, these variances in temperature was equivalent to those existing today from latitude 55°N (Northern Newfoundland) to 32°N (Georgia).
Such temperature swings profoundly affected the forests of Shenandoah National Park. The Park experienced temperatures almost 10°F colder to 5°F warmer – enough to shift forest biomes drastically back and forth between cold artic boreal forests and warm Oak-Hickory-Pine and Southern Mixed forests.
Forest biomes shifted back and forth a minimum of 37 times during the last 45,000 years as shown below.
Forest Type Years Ago Climate
Boreal 45,000-37 000 Cold
Northern Hardwoods 36,000-35,000 Warming
Northern Harwood-Spruce 32,000 Cooling
Boreal 28,000 Cold
27,000 Last Glacial Maximum
Northern Hardwoods 26,000 Warming
Boreal 25,000 Cold - Northern Hemisphere Insolation Minimum
Northern Hardwood-Spruce 24,000 Warming
Boreal 22,000 Cold
NE Spruce-Fir 17,000 Cool
15,000-13,000 Warming - Bolling-Allerod Interstadial Warming
Northern Hardwood-Spruce 13,000-12,000 Cooling - Younger Dryas Cold Pulse
Appalachian Oak 10,000-6,000 Warming
Southern Mixed 6,000-4,000 Warming
Appalachian Oak 4,000-present Cooling
Source: Adapted from Litwin et al., 2004.
Climate is continuing to change in Shenandoah National Park. Average temperatures in the SNP are expected to shift upwards any where from 1.7°F to 12.7°F depending on the climate model, assumptions, and baseline years. By the end of the century, temperatures are likely to exceed the upper end of the historical range of the last 45,000 years.
In addition to temperature changes, annual precipitation is expected to increase from 1.5 to 8.5 inches by the end of the century. The future climate at the Park, therefore, is likely to include on average milder winters with fewer frost days, hotter summers, and wetter and cloudier conditions.
As a result of these climate changes, Shenandoah National Park is likely to evolve from an Appalachian Oak biome to a Southern Mixed Pine biome.
This may mean a loss of species such as maple, eastern hemlock, northern red oaks, yellow poplar, beech, and other northern hardwoods, and an increase in hickory, sweet gum, shortleaf and longleaf pine, loblolly pine, various elms, and southern oaks (National Park Service, 2015b).
Appalachian Oak Forests Southeastern Mixed Pine Forests
Source: Wikipedia Source: Wikipedia
But climate changes are occurring faster today than they did 45,000 years ago. Temperature and precipitation changes that occurred in the past over thousands of years are occurring today in less than 100 years. In the short term this is likely to:
For example, native brook trout are a cold-water fish. Park officials have measured warmer stream temperatures in recent years, which could put the brook trout under stress and may ultimately eliminate or greatly reduce their numbers in the Park (Saunders, et al., 2010; Flebbe, et al., 2006; National Park Service, 2017a). Another animal that may become a climate change casualty is the Shenandoah salamander, an endangered species that is found nowhere else on the planet.
About a quarter of bird species and 10 percent of the mammals in the Park will likely shift their ranges into and out of the park as the result of either direct or indirect climate effects (National Park Service, 2019d; Wu, et al., 2018; Burns, et al., 2003). Some mammal species, such as the red squirrel and the southern red-back vole, are particularly sensitive to climatic conditions and may be lost to the Park (Burns, et al., 2003). Species reshuffling, however, may result in a net gain to the Park, as more species move into and colonize the Park than move out.
So when you next consider the Good Ole Days, think longer term, both in terms of the past and the future.
Burns, C. E., Johnston, K. M., & Schmitz, O. J. (2003). Global climate change and mammalian species diversity in U.S. national parks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(20), 11474–11477. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1635115100
Flebbe, P. A., Roghair, L. D., & Bruggink, J. L. (2006). Spatial Modeling to Project Southern Appalachian Trout Distribution in a Warmer Climate. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 135(5), 1371–1382. DOI:10.1577/T05-217.1
Litwin, R. J., Morgan, B., Eaton, L. S., & Wieczorek, G. (2004). Assessment of Late Pleistocene to recent climate-induced vegetation changes in and near Shenandoah National Park. USGS OFR 2004-1351. DOI: 10.3133/ofr20041351
National Park Service (2019d). Projected Effects of Climate Change on Birds in U.S. National Parks, Briefing Note. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/upload/01-NPS_Overall_Project_Brief_508Compliant.pdf
National Park Service. (2017a). Climate Change Impacts at Shenandoah National Park. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/nature/climatechange.htm
National Park Service. (2015b). Climate, Trees, Pests, and Weeds: Change, Uncertainty, and Biotic Stressors at Shenandoah National Park. Project Brief.
Saunders, S., Easley, T., & Spencer, T. (2010). Virginia Special Places in Peril: Jamestown, Chincoteague, and Shenandoah Threatened by Climate Disruption. The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and NRDC. Retrieved from http://www.rockymountainclimate.org/images/VA_SpecialPlaces.pdf
Wu, J.X., et al. (2018). Projected avifaunal response to climate change across the US National Park System. Plos One, 13(3): e0190557. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0190557.
By Diana Madson on Jan 8, 2020
Yale Climate Connections
You may enjoy gazing out the window and seeing familiar birds like goldfinches, robins, or warblers flitting between tree branches. But as the climate warms, many bird species will need to leave some of the places they’ve long considered home.
“These areas just become no longer suitable, and they’ll have to move to new areas,” says Brooke Bateman, a senior scientist at the National Audubon Society. She says for bird lovers who want to visualize what this means in their own yards, Audubon created an online tool. Users can enter a ZIP code and learn more about local climate threats and the risks they pose to birds.
“It really gives you a local snapshot of what’s happening with climate change,” she says. The tool highlights which species will no longer find suitable local habitat by the end of the century. Users can toggle between different levels of future warming. Bateman says this lets people see that without climate action, “Oh, these birds that come to my feeder, or these birds I see in my backyard … they’re not going to be there anymore.”
But if carbon pollution is sharply reduced, the risks to many species are, too. The tool shows how climate action can help your favorite birds return to your feeder year after year.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.
By Bonnie Beers
Two studies published in October 2019 document changes and potential challenges facing North American bird populations:
Cornell’s study describes actual changes over the past 50 years. The Audubon study predicts population declines based on 140 million observations from 40 different data sets interfaced with habitat preferences and needs of each species and on climate change projections. The web-link above describes details of the study and allows viewing of predictions that illustrate vulnerabilities of specific species typical of a given zipcode at projected temperature rises of 1.5, 2.0, and 3.0-degree Celsius.
Both studies present some grim realities, but also provide pathways for hope, at both individual and policy levels. Make a New Year’s Resolution to do something for birds!
Submitted by Charlene Uhl
Article appearing in the Washington Post, Dec. 18 2019
By Adrian Higgins Columnist
It is hard to overstate the value and cultural importance of the American chestnut tree for those who came before us.
The native hardwood was once so ubiquitous, it has been said, that a squirrel could travel from Maine to Georgia in the chestnut canopy. The largest trees, spreading 100 feet or more, dropped 10 bushels of nuts, and in the fall the ground was covered with a nut blanket four inches deep, writes sociologist Donald E. Davis in a 2005 paper.
The bears and turkeys feasted, the farmer’s hogs feasted, and the people who lived in chestnut territory feasted — on that sweetened Appalachian ham but also on the economic value of the trees and their nuts. The chestnut’s arrow-straight timber was valued for its size and rot resistance and today endures in the posts and beams of old farmhouses and barns.
For us city folk, the chestnut evokes everything that is nostalgic about yuletide season, the notion of a vendor plying hot roasted chestnuts on a street corner. The aroma, the warmth in the hand, the nutty flavor all conjure one of the more cuddly images of a Dickensian world.
, this diminished holiday custom is carried on with nuts from Asia and Europe, which are bigger but less sweet.
The American chestnut was killed off by the arrival of a blight in 1904 that within a few decades had virtually wiped out an entire, dominant species. In modern parlance the fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, went viral.
This environmental catastrophe is widely known. Not so broadly understood is that we are closer than ever to returning the American chestnut to its old haunts — or something akin to it. This resurrection has been several decades in the making and has taken two parallel tracks. The first is in the slow, methodical work of traditional hybridization, attempting with each successive generation a tree that will be naturally resistant to the fungus. This has been led by the American Chestnut Foundation, based in Asheville, N.C. The second is by way of genetic modification, undertaken by scientists at the State University of New York in partnership with the foundation. In a world wary of organism-mixing in the lab, this has proved more controversial.
Naturally resistant trees can reach nut-bearing age before the blight knocks them back. This tree is in western North Carolina. (American Chestnut Foundation) The winter garden is full of promise and productivity.
The conventional breeding began by crossing the blight-tolerant Chinese chestnut with some surviving American chestnut individuals that had proved resistant to the fungus, if only to die back to the roots after reaching nut-bearing age.
The foundation was created in 1983 by plant scientists and others who saw the potential of systematic development of a blight-resistant tree through a series of “backcrosses” in which successive generations of American-Chinese hybrids could be bred with resistant American chestnuts. Once these crosses produced trees that were carrying chiefly the American chestnut genome — as much as 90 percent — they were crossed with each other. The challenge has been to select seedlings with enough Chinese blood in them to ward off the disease and yet still look like the American chestnut. At maturity, the American tree is tall and spreading with a thick, straight trunk. The Chinese species is shorter and more branching.
Most of this work goes on at a research station in southwest Virginia named Meadowview Research Farms. The foundation is supported by 5,000 members and chapters in 16 states.
Jared Westbrook, the foundation’s science director, said that of 60,000 seedlings planted and evaluated, 4,000 have made the cut so far. That number will be reduced to 2,000 in the coming months, and a final cut will leave 600 trees by 2021 as the culmination of the breeding program. These will be used to re-populate the Appalachian forest — though earlier-generation trees produced at Meadowview have already been planted on 40 private, state and national sites in the chestnut’s historical range. Westbrook is using a technique called genomic selection to pick the finalists — by analyzing their DNA he can identify individuals with the desired traits.
This is not to be confused with genetic modification, which is the tack employed by William Powell and his colleagues at SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. They have used a wheat gene to counter the effects of the disease and have asked the Agriculture Department to sign off on its release. Also, Powell said, the Environmental Protection Agency will decide whether the antifungal properties constitute a fungicide, which would require pesticide registration. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration will determine whether the nuts are safe to eat.
The foundation is working with the researchers. “If it gets through the review process, the American Chestnut Foundation would breed that gene into a diverse population,” Westbrook said. “We are using all the tools available to us.”
The genetically engineered or transgenic chestnut is facing opposition from an alliance of environmental groups named StopGEtrees, which claims its release into the wild would be “a massive and irreversible experiment” and pave the way for other forest tree species to be genetically engineered and released.
“This would be the first one to be released into nature,” said Rachel Smolker, co-author of a report critical of the plan. The restoration of the American chestnut is such an appealing idea that the proponents of genetic engineering are using it to win acceptance of the broader biotechnology, she says. “It’s about winning public support for genetically engineered trees, which has met with tremendous public resistance,” she said. “It’s a very deliberate strategy. A tree engineered for biofuels doesn’t win over the public in the same way.”
Powell says the bacterium he used to carry the wheat gene into the chestnut chromosome is already found, naturally, in the DNA of some tree species, including the walnut. “Walnut is a natural GMO,” he said. The biotechnology “can be applied to other trees,” he says. “But it’s a good thing, it can save more trees.”
This fall, residents of the Lyon Park neighborhood of Arlington County gathered in their community park to plant two non-transgenic saplings from the chestnut foundation to mark Lyon Park’s centennial. They are just a few inches tall, but they are latent giants. “We are protecting them and doing the best we can,” said resident Gray Handley. A hundred years after the demise of the American chestnut, there is hope that future generations will witness something denied ours, the return of the big old American chestnut.
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