Latest News from the Bug Blog
When a monarch butterfly comes fluttering through your yard, grab your camera. Marvel at it beauty, celebrate its presence, and keep it in your memory. It may be become an endangered species the way things are going.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently reported that the monarch population has declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years. And, “during the same period it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.”
So a trio—Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, and the Xerces Society—filed a legal petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species status to protect the monarch (Danaus plexippus).
The widespread loss of milkweed, the butterfly's host plant, especially throughout the Midwest, is troubling.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says there's plenty of milkweek in Northern California. “The problem is that nobody's there to breed on it.” For example, he sees large spreads of milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) around his many monitoring sites, including one by the Vacaville (Calif.) Transit Center. “Probably 75 stems, but I have never ever seen a monarch there, let alone any evidence of breeding." (See his entry on monarchs on his website.)
So, a monarch's solo visit to our little bee garden seems like a major event. When we see one, as we did Sept. 17, it heads straight for the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window. What a gorgeous butterfly, worthy of the royal name, “monarch!”
The only question is: will we consider it worthy enough to save it?
- Plant milkweed, its host plant.
- Avoid insecticides or herbicides.
- Become a citizen scientist and help record sightings.
- Support conservation efforts.
- Promote public awareness.
Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window as it touches down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of a monarch on a Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch spreads its wings, a glorious sight, even as the afternoon light fades. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
He recorded 12 species of butterflies in the dry vegetation. (He's been monitoring the butterfly population in Central California for some four decades and he shares the information on his website.)
Frankly, we're surprised he went monitoring at all, especially after he emailed friends and colleagues about the bad news. Subject line: "Breaking Bad."
"At 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept.11, my world turned upside-down. So did I.
"I was just into the crosswalk from the NW corner of Oak and Russell in Davis, heading south toward my lab, when I was struck from behind with great force by a bicyclist. I flew through the air and landed on the pavement head-first, with the right side of my face bearing the worst of the impact. The wife of a departmental colleague arrived on the scene a moment later; I believe she called 911. I was never unconscious, which is strange. My neck could easily have been broken, resulting in either death or paralysis, but it wasn't (the EMTs had assumed it was!). I was rushed to Sutter Davis Hospital and thence transferred to the UC Davis hospital trauma unit in Sacramento....Every bone on the right side of my face was pulverized. I had no more eye socket (orbit) and no more right cheekbone."
It was not a hit-and-run, as some folks speculated. The bicyclist stayed for the police report.
Through it all, Shapiro retained his sense of humor and is now back at work in his Storer Hall office after surgery on Sept. 12 and a repeat visit to the UC Davis Medical Center today. And he can see again.
"...my right eye is swollen shut, I am all black and blue and look like I've been in the ring with Mike Tyson. I look like a ghoul in a zombie-apocalypse movie, with caked blood, blah blah. I'm not sure I've ever felt worse, though, oddly, there hasn't been all that much pain."
So, immediately after the Medical Center appointment, he trekked over to his North Sacramento study site. His appearance did not go unnoticed. "Looking like I do is an invitation for street people, homeless, and down-and-outers to talk to you, as I learned today. There were only two campers at North Sac, but I had a dozen such conversations...most of them assumed I had been in a fight." One guy said said 'I hope you gave the other guy as bad as you got!'
True to form, Shapiro appeared to be most interested in monitoring butterflies than monitoring his physical condition.
"North Sac: 88F, clear, very light S wind. No new fires. Veg very dry, less of everything in bloom except Euthamia (goldentops) Hemizonia (tarweeds), and Epilobium (willowherbs/fireweeds) all peaking. No coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) yet. With all the Euthamia I expected (Atlides) halesus (Great purple streak), but didn't see it; with all the Epilobium expected (Ochlodes) sylvanoides (Woodland skipper), but didn't see it, either; and there were no Poanes melane (umber skipper)."
The species he recorded:
- Junonia coenia, 11, Buckeye
- Pyrgus communis, 18, Common Checkered Skipper
- Plebejus acmon, 5, Acmon Blue
- Pieris rapae, 19, Cabbage White
- Strymon melinus, 4, Gray Hairstr.eak
- Brephidium exile, 1. Western Pygmy Blue
- Atalopedes campestris, 4, Field Skipper
- Phyciodes mylitta, 10, Mylitta Crescent
- Everes comyntas, 1, Eastern Tailed Blue
- Hylephila phyleus, 7, Fiery Skipper
- Limenitis lorquini, 3, Lorquin's Admiral
- Agraulis vanillae, 1, Gulf Fritillary
Twelve different species. Eighty-bugs.
And what did Shapiro have to say about his field trip? "Me and AH-nold: we're b-a-a-a-a-a-c-k."
"It feels good," he added.
And we're all feeling good--whew!--that he's feeling good.
That was a close one.
Art Shapiro saw 19 of this species, Pieris rapae, or cabbage white, today at his North Sacramento study site. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Pollinator Partnership, as part of its U.S. Bee Buffer Project, wants to partner with California farmers, ranchers, foresters, and managers and owners to participate in a honey bee forage habitat enhancement effort. It's called the U.S. Bee Buffer Project and the goal is to "borrow" 6000 acres to plant honey bee seed mix.
It will create a foraging habitat of pollen and nectar, essential to honey bee health. And there's no charge for the seed mix.
What a great project to help the beleaguered honey bees!
"Beekeepers struggle to find foraging areas to feed their bees when they are not in a pollination contract," said "idea generator" Kathy Kellison of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, a strong advocate of keeping bees healthy. "Lack of foraging habitat puts stress on the bees and cropping systems honey bees pollinate. The U.S. Bee Buffer Project will develop a network of honey bee forage habitats in agricultural areas to support honey bee health and our own food systems. We are looking for cooperators with land they are willing to set aside as Bee Buffers."
Kellison points out:
- Honey bees provide pollination services for 90 crops nationwide.
- A leading cause for over-winter mortality of honey bee colonies given by beekeepers surveyed is starvation. The nationwide winter loss for 2012/2013 was 31.3 percent.
The requirements, she said, are minimal:
- Access to an active farm, ranch, forest, easement, set-aside, or landscape
- Ability to plant 0.25 to 3 acres with the U.S. Bee Buffer seed mix
- Commitment to keep the Bee Buffer in place
- Allow beekeepers and researchers on-site
Of course, the benefits to the participants include free seeds and planting information; supplemental pollination of flowering plants; and leadership participation in the beginnings of a nationwide effort to support honey bees. Then there's the potential for enriched soil, reduction in invasive plant species, and enhanced wildlife habitat.
And, we made add, a sense of accomplishment as bees forage on your thriving plants.
Those interested in participating in this nationwide effort and hosting a Bee Buffer, can visit http://www.pollinator.org/beebuffer.htm to fill out a brief eligibility questionnaire. More information is available from Mary Byrne at the Pollinator Partnership at (415) 362-1137 or email@example.com.
Honey bee on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading for lupine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantids are, oh, so patient.
They perch on a flower, their spiked forelegs seemingly locked in a praying position, and wait to ambush unsuspecting prey.
A green praying mantis recently did just that on our cosmos.
Usually we have to hunt for the mantids because they are so camouflaged or concealed.
Not this one.
This one was as visible as a green elephant in a field of snow.
Despite its conspicuous visibility, the attempts of this lean green machine proved fruitful. First, a honey bee. Then a fiery skipper.
His prayers were answered.
A praying mantis perches on a cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A strike! First prey is a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Second strike! A fiery skipper butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Evolutionary biology techniques can and must be used to help solve global challenges in agriculture, medicine and environmental sciences, they said.
Science Express makes important papers available to readers before they appear in the journal Science. The first-of-its-kind study will appear in a November edition of the journal.
“Evolutionary biology is often overlooked in the study of global challenges,” said lead author Scott, with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the Institute for Contemporary Evolution, also in Davis. “By looking at humanity's problems across the domains of nature conservation, food production and human health, it is clear that we need to strengthen evolutionary biology throughout the disciplines and develop a shared language among them.”
The study calls attention to how evolutionary biology techniques can be used to address challenges in agriculture, medicine and environmental sciences, said Carroll, noting that these techniques, although seemingly unrelated, work within a similar set of evolutionary processes.
“These techniques range from limiting the use of antibiotics to avoid resistant bacteria and breeding crops with desired benefits such as flood tolerant rice, to less commonly implemented strategies such as gene therapy to treat human disease, and planting non-native plants to anticipate climate change,” Carroll said.
“A particular worry is the unaddressed need for management of evolution that spans multiple sectors, such as occurs in the spread of new infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance genes between natural, human health and agricultural systems.”
In their paper, the nine researchers—two from UC Davis, one from UCLA and six from universities in Denmark, New Zealand, Maine, Minnesota, Washington state and Arizona--crafted a graphic wheel divided into three sectors, food, health and environment and cited the challenges that link them together, including rapid revolution and phenotype environment mismatch in more slowly reproducing or threatened species.
Carroll said the underlying causes of societal challenges such as food security, emerging disease and biodiversity loss “have more in common than we think.”
“Humans, pathogens and all other life on earth adapt to their environment through evolution, but some adaptation happens too quickly and some too slowly to benefit human society,” Carroll said. “Current efforts to overcome societal challenges are likely only to create larger problems if evolutionary biology is not swiftly and widely implementedto achieve sustainable development.”
Society faces two sorts of challenges from evolution, the research team said. “The first occurs when pests and pathogens we try to kill or control persist or even prosper because the survivors and their offspring can resist our actions,” Carroll said. “The second challenge arises when species we value adapt too slowly, including humans.”
Although practices in health, agriculture and environmental conservation differ, each field can better target challenges using the same applications of evolutionary biology, they said.
For example, when a farmer plants a crop that is susceptible to pests, he might actually help the agricultural community as a whole by slowing down evolution of pesticide resistance, the authors said, citing an applied evolutionary biology tactic used in agriculture.
Planting pest-friendly crops has been used in the United States with good results, the team said. Farmers planting these crops slow the evolution of resistance to genetically modified corn and other crops. Pests then reproduce in abundance eating the susceptible plants, and when a rare resistant mutant matures on a toxic diet, it is most likely to mate with a susceptible partner, keeping susceptibility alive. This approach works to suppress the unwanted evolution on the whole, but farmers will have sacrificed a short-term gain for the long-term good.
Similar innovative solutions exist across the fields of medicine and environmental conservation, they said.
“This is an example of how implementing applied evolutionary biology without a plan for regulatory measures may come at short-term costs to some individuals that others may avoid.” Jorgensen said. “By using regulatory tools, decision makers such as local communities and governments play a crucial role in ensuring that everybody gains from the benefits of using evolutionary biology to realize the long-term goals of increasing food security, protecting biodiversity and improving human health and well-being.”
Other co-authors are Michael T. Kinnison, University of Maine; Carl Bergstrom, University of Washington; R. Ford Denison, University of Minnesota; Peter Gluckman, University of Auckland, New Zealand; Thomas B. Smith, UCLA; Sharon Strauss, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology and Center for Population Biology, and Bruce Tabashnik, University of Arizona.
Carroll is an affiliate of the Sharon Lawler lab, UC Davis Entomology and Nematology. The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the Australian-American Fulbright Commission.
The pink bollworm, a global pest of cotton, has evolved resistance to genetically modified cotton in India, but not in Arizona where farmers have planted refuges of conventional cotton to reduce selection for resistance. (Photo by Alex Yelich, University of Arizona)