Study: Garden diversity key to preserving bumblebees

UK researchers track flower preferences

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A bumblebee searches for pollen on a thistle bloom. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Diversity in urban gardens can play a key role in sustaining pressured bumblebee populations, ecologists in the UK said this week, explaining the results of a study that measured bumblebee preferences for both native and non-native plants.

The most common species of bumblebee is not picky about a plant’s origin when searching for nectar and pollen. But other species, including long-tongued bees, favor plants native to the UK and Europe. Continue reading

Opinion: My 2 cents worth of guacamole

Bob Berwyn.

Bob Berwyn.

Many journalists spread their dip pretty thin when writing about climate

By Bob Berwyn

Chipotle’s guacamole is threatened by global warming. Or not, depending what you choose to believe.

Immediately dubbed the “Guacalypse” by some climate pundits, the news that Chipotle acknowledged potential global warming threats in a formulaic report to investors raised a stir.

You can melt the Arctic ice cap, raise sea level by 20 feet, but don’t mess with my guacamole, some would-be climate warriors said. But by the next day, NBC news was — almost snarkily — reporting that there’s no immediate threat to the world’s supply of avocados — at least not yet. Continue reading

Study: Fixing Gulf of Mexico dead zone requires overcoming social and biophysical barriers

‘Stewardship objectives may be strong, but they can be trumped or complicated by other economic, social, and environmental drivers’

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The NASA Earth Observatory program has mapped dead zones around the world.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Working with farmers on adopting realistic best management practices may be the best way to reduce the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, according to recent research from scientists at the University of Illinois. The researchers said that a 12-year action plan to improve conditions in the oxygen-starved area has shown few results, so they set out to identify some of  the biophysical and social barriers. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Tracking bumblebees

A bumblebee

A bumblebee forages in the Colorado high country.

Researchers look to track bees with tiny transmitters

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With honeybee populations dwindling, bumblebees are becoming increasingly important as agricultural pollinators. To help gain a better understanding of bumblebee activity, researchers with Oregon State University want to track the insects with tiny sensors that will reveal how these native pollinators search for pollen, nectar and nesting sites.

The information will help researchers better understand how these insects assist in the production of crops that depend on pollination to produce fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, tomatoes and dozens of other staples.

“Lack of pollination is a risk to human food production,” said Sujaya Rao, an entomologist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences and an expert on native bees. “With our sensors, we are searching for answers to basic questions, such as: Do all members of one colony go to pollinate the same field together? Do bumblebees communicate in the colony where food is located? Are bumblebees loyal as a group?” Continue reading

Global forest cover on a steady downward trend

Wheat field in Upper Austria

A wheat field in Upper Austria ripens under a summer sun.

Decline expected to continue for centuries, based on increased demand for agricultural land

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Population growth and increased demand for agricultural land means forest will continue to shrink globally during the next couple of centuries before stabilizing at a lower level.

Just since 1990, about 170 million acres of forest have been lost, mainly in developing countries, according to a new study led by researchers with the University of Guelph.

The study is based on an analysis of global forest trends, used to develop a mathematical model showing future land use changes. The most likely model shows forests will decline from covering 30 per cent of Earth’s land surface today to 22 per cent within the next two centuries. Continue reading

Study eyes selenium impacts to honey bees

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Bees gather on wildflowers in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Exposure can lead to mortality, California researchers say

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with pesticides, heavy metals may also be contributing to the decline of honey bees in some regions, according to entomologists at the University of California, Riverside.

Their research found that four main forms of selenium found in plants cause mortality and delays in development in the honey bee. Study results appear in the Oct. 2013 issue of the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

“Metal pollutants like selenium contaminate soil, water, can be accumulated in plants, and can even be atmospherically deposited on the hive itself,” said Kristen Hladun, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral entomologist. “Our study examined the toxic effects of selenium at multiple life stages of the honey bee in order to mimic the chronic exposure this insect may face when foraging in a contaminated area.” Continue reading

Climate change raises big questions for agriculture

Apples ripen on a tree in Austria, which just experienced one of its warmest summers on record. bberwyn photo.

Apples ripen on a tree in Austria, which just experienced one of its warmest summers on record. bberwyn photo.

Research aims to understand how plants will respond to warming temperatures

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As global warming throws the timing of plants and animals out of kilter, scientists are struggling to understand how that may affect critical human activities like agriculture.

As climate change brings warmer-than-usual winters to the U.S., plants may be more vulnerable to imprecise timing, and the tools traditionally used by farmers and horticulturists to predict seasons may be inadequate.

“How do we do a better job of seeing the climate the way the plants see it?” said James Clark, the Blomquist Professor of environment and biology at Duke University. With colleagues from the Marine Biological Lab at Woods Hole and the University of Georgia, Clark is working on building a statistical model of how trees make this decision. Continue reading

Global warming linked with spread of crop-killing pests

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Fruit trees in mid-latitudes could face more pressure as global warming drives the spread of pests. bberwyn photo.

Trend poses food security threat

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As global temperatures continue to rise, plant-killing pests are spreading toward the poles at the rate of almost two miles per year, posing a potential threat to food production in the world’s temperate crop–producing areas.

“If crop pests continue to march polewards as the Earth warms, the combined effects of a growing world population and the increased loss of crops to pests will pose a serious threat to global food security,” said Dr, Dan Bebber, of the University of Exeter.

Bebber and his colleagues carefully studied insect populations and climate trends, finding a strong relationship between increased global temperatures over the past 50 years and the expanding range of crop pests. The research was published Sept. 1 in Nature Climate Change. Continue reading

Environment: Honeybee decline worsens in 2012

Shortage of honeybee colonies for agriculture growing

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Bees help pollinate commercial crops and wild plants. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — U.S. beekeepers said they lost almost a third (31.3 percent) of their managed honeybee colonies during the 2012-2013 winter, more than double the “acceptable” loss rate of 15 percent.

Colony losses increased 42 percent from the previous year, with about 70 percent of the beekeepers surveyed reporting that they lost more than 15 percent of their honeybee colonies, according to the preliminary results of an annual survey.

An estimated one-third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honey bees. A decline in managed bee colonies puts great pressure on the sectors of agriculture reliant on commercial pollination services. This is evident from reports of shortages of bees available for the pollination of many crops. Continue reading

Study: Wild insects key to crop pollination

Wild insect populations are critical to pollinating plant life. Bob Berwyn photo.

Wild insect populations are critical to pollinating plant life. Bob Berwyn photo.

Honeybees augment, but don’t replace diverse insect populations

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With a lot of recent concerns focused on the decline of honeybee populations, a new study shows that wild insects even even more important as pollinators for certain crops for crops stocked routinely with high densities of honey bees, including almonds, blueberries, mangos and watermelons.

“Our study shows that losses of wild insects from agricultural landscapes impact not only our natural heritage but also our agricultural harvests,” said Lucas A. Garibaldi, of the Universidad Nacional de Río Negro – CONICET, Argentina.

“We found that wild insects consistently enhanced the number of flowers setting fruits or seeds for a broad range of crops and agricultural practices on all continents with farmland,” Garibaldi said. “Long term, productive agricultural systems should include habitat for both honey bees and diverse wild insects. Our study prompts for the implementation of more sustainable agricultural practices.” Continue reading

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