Ladybugs, Honeybees, and a National Marine Sanctuary: this week in environmental news

Ladybug

Once a common presence in gardens, the 9-spotted ladybug has become a rare sight. Photo: Todd A. Ugine

Where have all the ladybugs gone? (Mother Nature Network): Native ladybugs have been in serious decline since the mid-1970s. John Losey has created the Lost Ladybug Project, a citizen science effort seeking to document where remaining populations are being seen, where they are not being seen, all to help determine the reasons for their decline. The next time you see a ladybug, do a farmer a favor. Whip out your smartphone, take pictures of it, and email the photos with the location to John Losey.

Bee crisis linked to virus spread by humans (Mother Nature Network): Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a strange plague that has been obliterating honeybee colonies for at least a decade. But there are at least two other scourges that share the blame: Varroa mites and deformed wing virus (DWV). According to a new study, humans helped it by recklessly shipping honeybee colonies and queens across oceans. The consequences can be devastating, both for domestic animals and for wildlife. The risk of introducing viruses or other pathogens is just one of many potential dangers. The key insight is that the global virus pandemic in honeybees is man-made, not natural. It’s therefore within our hands to mitigate this and future disease problems.

Apostle Island

Map of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. Image: National Park Service

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore could be connected by National Marine Sanctuary (Great Lakes Echo): The 21 Lake Superior islands and 12 miles of mainland that are the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore could knit together under a new federal protection. A group launched an effort to establish a national marine sanctuary at the lake bottom that surrounds the islands just off the northernmost tip of Wisconsin. The islands draw thousands of tourists each year, and the added significance of the sanctuary designation could attract even more. The sanctuary designation would create important education opportunities and funding for research.

Researchers eye trout spawning sites from space (Great Lakes Echo): Satellite imagery offers a new tool for identifying nearshore lake trout spawning habitat across broad areas of the Great Lakes, according to a recent study in the Journal of Great Lakes Research. Understanding lake trout spawning habitat long-term could inform ways to improve or evaluate hatchery practices. The lake trout’s preference of cleaner, algae-free spawning sites is key to relying on the satellite imagery.

 

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How Will This Harsh Winter Affect Wildlife?

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA  intern

The polar vortex may be finally past us, but cold temperatures are still prevalent throughout Michigan. We all know it made for a miserable winter for us, but how was wildlife affected?

Karner Blue Butterfly

The Karner blue butterfly lays it’s eggs near the ground so the snow can help insulate them through the winter. Photo from MNA Archives.

Many wildlife species are well adapted to thrive in cold temperatures. This winter proved to be beneficial for some endangered species here in Michigan. The Karner blue butterfly will hopefully see a spike in population from the excessive amounts of snow this winter brought. The butterfly’s eggs, which are laid on leaf litter near the ground over the winter, do best when there is deep snow cover on the ground over the course of the entire winter. The snow keeps them from drying out and provides extra insulation from air temperatures which can be colder than the ground temperatures.

Cisco fish are another endangered species that will benefit from the cold. They lay their eggs under the ice of the Great Lakes which protects them from getting thrashed around too much by waves. When there is little to no ice coverage, the waves cause the eggs to break. The heavy and vast ice coverage that the Great Lakes has had this winter will help provide a great barrier for the eggs and hopefully lead to more of them surviving.

When temperatures get cold, honeybees cluster and vibrate their wings to create heat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When temperatures get cold, honeybees cluster and vibrate their wings to create heat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Honeybees continue to thrive in the hive during extreme cold streaks. They gather in massive amounts to form a dense cluster around the outside of the hive when the temperature drops. As it gets colder, the cluster of bees becomes tighter and they move closer inside the hive. In order to stay warm and keep the queen warm, they exercise by rapidly vibrating their wings. It also creates air currents that expel carbon dioxide and moisture.

Not every species benefits from the extreme cold. Many invasive species are unable to handle the sub zero temperatures. Although it is unfortunate for the insects, it is good news for the plants affected by them and it could help solve issues with some invasive species in Michigan.

The emerald ash borer larvae can withstand temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The emerald ash borer larvae can withstand temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Temperatures were cold enough in certain areas to freeze and kill many invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer. They are able to withstand several degrees below zero, but if temperatures hit 20 or 30 degrees below zero, they may not be able to survive.

Other invasive species do not fair as well as the emerald ash borer. The gypsy moth begins to freeze when temperatures hit below 17 degrees and the wooly adelgis, which has killed thousands of hemlock trees in the Northwest, dies when temperatures fall just below zero.

 

 

Farm bill, lake sturgeon, and blueberries: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

International Joint Commission issues Great Lakes report card (Great Lakes Echo): According to the International Joint Commission’s latest progress report, Michigan’s Great Lakes are experiencing some new problems, mainly linked to warmer temperatures. According to Lana Pollack, former Michigan Environmental Council president, warm temperatures are taking their toll on lake ecology, dramatically impacting species that were once considered stable in these areas. The commission summarized that, tough protection measures have greatly improved the quality of the Great Lakes in recent decades, the area now requires a new type of conservational attention.

Stabenow calls for passage of Senate farm bill (East Village Magazine): U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow joined with Michigan agricultural and conservationist leaders Wednesday to call for the passage of her 2013 Farm Bill. The bill is a major reform of past agriculture programs, and yields $24 billion in spending cuts. The reforms increase investments to create more jobs in the agriculture industry while aiming to save taxpayer dollars overall. The Senate Committee passed the bill by a strong bipartisan vote on May 15, and a final Senate vote is expected next week.

Image

Lake Sturgeon.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Restoring an ancient Great Lakes fish (Michigan Water Stewardship Program): Federal and state officials have joined with the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi to rebuild the lake sturgeon habitat in the Kalamazoo River. Currently, the lake sturgeon population is declining below sustainable levels in the area, and fewer than 125 exist in the Kalamazoo River today. Conservationists are attempting to raise these numbers by reconstructing areas of cobblestones, rock and sand at the bottom of the river, which the sturgeon use for spawning.

Does Climate Change Impact Tornadoes? The Scientific Jury Is Still Out (TakePart): Though multiple theories exist, some scientists are beginning to suspect that stronger tornadoes, such as the twister that hit Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, may be linked to climate change. Humid air masses coming off the Gulf of Mexico could increase from warmer global temperatures and, as a result, increasingly clash with cold northern air masses to form more tornadoes. Still, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledges this hypothesis, the organization does not believe there is enough data to prove it true at this time.

Honeybees, other bees put to the test pollinating Michigan blueberries (mlive): Planting wildflowers near blueberry plants may increase the crop’s yields, according to a recent study conducted at Michigan State University. The wildflowers attract bees and other pollinating insects, which additionally support blueberry plants. These findings will lead to a larger study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, testing ways to make full use of pollination on a broader scale.

Bee Palooza at MSU!

By Chelsea Richardson

Blue-Eyed Mary and a Bee

Blue-Eyed Mary and a bee in Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Marilyn Keigley

This past Saturday, Michigan State University hosted its Bee Palooza event, which marks the beginning of National Pollinator Week.

Honeybees and other pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat, but believe it or not, U.S. honeybee colonies are declining at a rate of 30% or more a year.

Late in 2006, U.S. beekeepers noticed that in certain colonies adult bees abruptly disappeared, leaving the queen and her brood alone in the hive. This syndrome is called “Colony Collapse Disorder” and is focused on honeybee pollinations which have steadily declined since the 1990s.

Honeybees are not native to Michigan, but there are 400 native bee species in the state that are pollinators; the health of these populations is yet unclear. Rufus Isaacs, an entomology professor at Michigan State University, studies pollination of berry crops. “To be honest, we don’t really know anything about long-term trends in their populations because there hasn’t been any careful monitoring of them over the years,” he said.

Isaacs and others in MSU’s entomology department put on the Bee Palooza event, in part as an opportunity to show people how to create their own “hotel” for native bees in their back yard. And if you are worried about getting stung, experts at the Palooza said that native bees are submissive, so they won’t hurt you.

Pollinator week is still going on. Visit the MSU Horticulture Garden or build your own bee hotel!

The Plight of the Honeybee

By Emma Ogutu

Honeybees have been vanishing at a fast rate over the last five years, threatening Michigan’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry. Many fruits, vegetables and animal crops depend on the bees for pollination.

A scientist investigates Colony Collapse Disorder. Photo: Washington State University

Since the initial report of their disappearance in the winter of 2006, scientists like Michigan State University’s Zachary Huang have been scrambling to unravel the mystery – dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. He offers his expertise to the Michigan Beekeepers Association.

His current research focuses on two possible culprits:  the parasitic nosema and varroa mites, whose effect on bees makes them susceptible to pesticides and reduces the lifespan and fertility of infant queen bees. In the last two decades, Varroa mites have wiped out wild honeybees and about a third of their managed kin in Michigan, according to MSU’s Agriculture Extension.

Other studies have linked the disappearance of honeybees to a parasitic fly or agricultural chemicals, but Huang is quick to point out that there’s no single factor responsible for the massive kill. “It’s a cumulative result on a number of factors,” he said.

Honeybee on Knapweed. Photo: Trish Steel, Wikimedia Commons

The clearing of natural habitats to pave way for more agricultural land or other developments coupled with the practice of planting single crops in large areas could also be major factors causing this phenomenon, according to the Huang. “When you clear natural habitats, you wipe out plants that provide food and other defenses to the bees, and when you plant a single crop in thousands of acres, you eliminate bees’ food diversity,” he said.

The loss of honey bees is quite insidious; sometimes up to 40 percent are lost in a winter season, according to MSU’s Agriculture Extension. “You never realize the immediate loss of a species because there are hundreds of thousands of species out there,” Huang said.  “That makes it even harder to predict the effect on crops.”

You can find honeybees and knapweed in several of MNA’s sanctuaries, including Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary, Karner Blue Nature Sanctuary and Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary. MNA’s policy is to remove invasive species, such as knapweed, so that they can be replaced with bee-friendly native species. Some plants such as late figwort, swamp milkweed and Culver’s root, can benefit from removal of knapweed while providing bees plenty of pollen and nectar.