Fight invasives or protect pollinators: Neonicotinoids present tough choice

Read the full story at Great Lakes Echo.

Neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides frequently used in agriculture, gets plenty of bad press for killing pollinators like honeybees.

But they’ve also emerged as an important combatant of the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has devastated ash tree populations all over the United States with the highest risk localized to the American Midwest and the northern half of the eastern seaboard.

Four ways to save our food system if bees disappear

Read the full story from the New Food Economy.

If a region’s farms were to lose the free labor they rely on, what could we do to keep crops growing—and how much would new methods change the way we eat?

This bumble bee was everywhere. Now it’s on the endangered species list.

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

For the first time in American history, a bumble bee species has been placed on the endangered species list. It probably won’t be the last.

The rusty patched bumble bee was so prevalent 20 years ago that pedestrians in Midwest cities fought to shoo them away. Now, even trained scientists and experienced bee watchers find it difficult to lay eyes on them. “I’ve never seen one, and I live here pretty close to where there have been populations documented,” said Tamara Smith, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist stationed in Minneapolis.

Neonicotinoid pesticide affects foraging and social interaction in bumblebees

Read the full story at

In a plastic, lasercut box blacked out with paint and lit with red light, worker bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) go about their daily activities: interacting with fellow adults, extracting food from honey pots, feeding larvae, and occasionally venturing out to forage for nectar. While this nest is far from normal, the bees that live here have adapted to their new space remarkably well. Still, all is not well within the nest, and not because of its strange form. Some bees have abandoned their daily patterns and are spending more time alone, on the periphery. Others are spending less time caring for the utterly dependent larvae that will become the next generation of bumblebees.

Within the nest, the chaotic center of bumblebee life, social behavior and interactions are crucial for bee population health and the production of young. When social behavior and the care of young changes, population numbers become more susceptible to decline. James Crall, a postdoc with the Planetary Health Alliance at Harvard University, graduate student Callin Switzer and colleagues have linked these changes in social behavior with sublethal exposure to the neonicotinoid pesticide, imidacloprid.

Full research article: Callin M. Switzer et al. The neonicotinoid pesticide, imidacloprid, affects Bombus impatiens (bumblebee) sonication behavior when consumed at doses below the LD50, Ecotoxicology (2016). DOI: 10.1007/s10646-016-1669-z

Native prairie restoration fights invasive species and helps the endangered ones

Read the full story in Great Lakes Echo.

Even prairie remnants as small as potted plants on an apartment balcony can help butterflies migrate.

What We Know About the Decline of Bees

Read the full story in Pacific Standard.

Honeybee populations are in decline worldwide, and, because we need them to pollinate fruits and vegetables, that spells big trouble for our food supply. But there’s a glimmer of good news: Researchers are finally starting to get a handle on the exact challenges bees face and how to deal with them, according to two recent surveys published in the journals Nature and Science.

The bee situation is nothing if not complicated. Things started to look dire around a decade ago, when unusually large numbers of bees essentially were lost to an odd phenomenon called colony collapse disorder—odd because there’s little evidence the bees actually died. Instead, they just went missing. Since that time, however, managed bee populations (as opposed to wild ones) seem to have recovered.

There’s no one explanation for bee populations’ ups and downs. It’s thought that neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides introduced in the 1990s, play a role, but their impact depends on the crops involved. Other pesticides, parasites, and maybe even climate change could be involved, but no one’s quite sure how exactly. It’s important that we get to the bottom of this decline because most of our fruits and vegetables—around 5 to 8 percent of our food supply—need bees and other insect pollinators to reproduce.

Now, Lynn Dicks, Rosemary Hill, Simon Potts, and their colleagues have managed to summarize what’s known with a paper published this week in Nature. The study builds on a recent report for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, one of the most comprehensive to date.

Where Have All the Butterflies Gone?

Read the full story in Pacific Standard.

Although bees’ troubles tend to receive more attention, butterflies have also had a tough go of it lately, particularly in the United Kingdom, where populations have been slipping away for four decades. Now, researchers suggest climate change may be the culprit, but not in the usual way: Growing variability in temperature and precipitation brought on by climate change, rather than overall higher temperatures, may be to blame.