Heat, drought and wildfires are ravaging western wildlife while conservationists try to help ecosystems adapt
By Brianna Randall – Conservation, Aug 02, 2022
Dead mussels lie along the Pacific shore of Vancouver, British Columbia, during 2021’s summer heat wave. Scientists estimate that the record-breaking heat killed more than 1 billion marine animals off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington state. (Photo by Christopher Harley/University of British Columbia)
GASPING SALMON WITH INFECTED LESIONS. Emaciated deer searching sagebrush flats for water. Clams and mussels boiled to death in their shells. Last summer, temperatures in the Northwest soared to record highs in the triple digits, killing more than 1 billion marine animals in the Salish Sea and stressing wildlife from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains. Simultaneously, ongoing drought in the Southwest—which began in 2000 and is the region’s driest 22-year period in 1,200 years—is causing plants to wither, springs to dry up and wildfires to engulf entire landscapes.
Most of us are aware of the hive mind—the power of bees as an amazing collective. But do we know how uniquely intelligent bees are as individuals? In The Mind of a Bee, Lars Chittka draws from decades of research, including his own pioneering work, to argue that bees have remarkable cognitive abilities.
He shows that they are profoundly smart, have distinct personalities, can recognize flowers and human faces, exhibit basic emotions, count, use simple tools, solve problems, and learn by observing others. They may even possess consciousness. Taking readers deep into the sensory world of bees, Chittka illustrates how bee brains are unparalleled in the animal kingdom in terms of how much sophisticated material is packed into their tiny nervous systems.
He looks at their innate behaviors and the ways their evolution as foragers may have contributed to their keen spatial memory. Chittka also examines the psychological differences between bees and the ethical dilemmas that arise in conservation and laboratory settings because bees feel and think. Throughout, he touches on the fascinating history behind the study of bee behavior. Exploring an insect whose sensory experiences rival those of humans, The Mind of a Bee reveals the singular abilities of some of the world’s most incredible creatures.
Even before COVID-19 increased the risks of cognitive impairments, it had been estimated that 152.8 million people globally would be living with dementia by 2050. Yet treatment for Alzheimer’s disease has hardly improved since it was discovered in 1901, notes neurologist and dementia specialist Sara Manning Peskin. Now, most clinical trials tackling dementia are “deeply rooted in molecular data”. Peskin’s powerful study — immersed in her patients’ stories — analyses neurology’s attempt to reach oncology’s molecular understanding.
The Insect Crisis
Oliver Milman Atlantic (2022)
Insect decline is obvious — but hard to quantify. Environmental journalist Oliver Milman suggests a drop of more than 90% in some places, in his vivid alarm call. The causes are unclear, but include habitat destruction by intensive farming, pesticide use and climate change. Insects’ “intricate dance” with Earth’s environment makes them crucial to human food supplies. We should learn to eat them, not meat, suggests Milman: that will help to save them by freeing farmland from crops needed to feed livestock.
Insulin — The Crooked Timber
Kersten T. Hall Oxford Univ. Press (2022)
Insulin was first used to treat human diabetes 100 years ago, after it was isolated by two medical scientists in 1921. Historian of science Kersten Hall describes this transformative event, together with insulin’s development as the first drug produced by genetic engineering and its lucrative exploitation — using a blend of profound research, lively writing and personal knowledge of diabetes. He argues that the history is a tale not of geniuses or saints, but rather one of “monstrous egos, toxic insecurities and bitter career rivalry”.
How to Solve a Crime
Angela Gallop Hodder & Stoughton (2022)
More than a century ago, criminologist Edmond Locard established forensic science on the principle that “every contact leaves a trace”. The field’s current sophistication and contribution to justice would be beyond his “wildest imaginings”, writes forensic scientist Angela Gallop. She tells gripping stories from her own and others’ experience, beginning with thirteenth-century Chinese investigator Sung Tz’u. He identified a farmer’s killer by asking fellow villagers to put their sickles on the ground; flies alighted on one blade bearing traces of blood.
The Sloth Lemur’s Song
Alison Richard William Collins (2022)
Anthropologist and conservationist Alison Richard has been absorbed by Madagascar for half a century. She writes that the country’s “animals and plants offer a wonderful array of rabbit holes down which a person fascinated by the natural world could disappear for a lifetime”. Why, for example, does its largest lemur sing spellbindingly across the treetops with its mate for many minutes? And what environmental conditions created the island’s unique — now disastrously threatened —
-N- Uprising ‘The Green Reapers’ is an experimental film mixing 8K insect videos and 8K carnivorous plant hatching timelapses. The film presents rare phenomena from the miniature world of insects. A butterfly in the process of being born, plants in the process of growing, Carnivorous plants in the process of hunting. It is a work of 4 months of patience.
All insects captured by the plants have been released.
Simple animals like jellyfish and hydra, even roundworms, sleep. Without brains. Why do they sleep? How can we tell a jellyfish is sleeping?
Staff Writer Liz Pennisi joins host Sarah Crespi to talk about what can be learned about sleep from these simple sleepers. The feature is part of a special issue on sleep this week in Science.
Next is a look at centuries of alien invasions—or rather, invasive insects moving from place to place as humans trade across continents. Sarah talks with Matthew MacLachlan, a research economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, about his Science Advances paper on why insect invasions don’t always increase when trade does.
Finally, a book on racism and the search algorithms. Books host Angela Saini for our series of interviews on race and science talks with Safiya Umoja Noble, a professor in the African American Studies and Information Studies departments at the University of California, Los Angeles, about her book: Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism.
Over one-third of greenhouse-gas emissions come from food production. For a greener future, this urgently needs to change. What’s the future of food in a more sustainable world? Our experts answer your questions.
Video timeline: 00:00 – Food’s environmental impact 00:44 – Why it’s important to make food sustainable 01:34 – Will everyone have to give up meat? 02:13 – Can lab-grown meat be scaled up? 03:32 – Could nutrients and vitamins be added to new foods? 04:52 – Will insects become a new staple food? 05:35 – Why small-scale farming isn’t the main solution 06:51 – Is vertical farming more sustainable? 07:36 – Will consumers accept new foods?
How insects help release carbon stored in forests, and the upcoming biodiversity summit COP 15.
In this episode:
00:44 Fungi, insects, dead trees and the carbon cycle
Across the world forests play a huge role in the carbon cycle, removing huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But when those trees die, some of that carbon goes back into the air. A new project studies how fast dead wood breaks down in different conditions, and the important role played by insects.
After several delays, the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, is now slated to take place next year. Even communicating the issues surrounding biodiversity loss has been a challenge, and reaching the targets due to be set at the upcoming meeting will be an even bigger one.