Archive for March, 2010

Children are being denied the chance to learn one of the key “foundation stones” of science because of laws that prevent them from collecting wild flowers, insects and fossils, according to Sir David Attenborough.

The veteran natural history broadcaster and naturalist fears that children are no longer learning about how to identify and classify species because of restrictions on collecting items from the countryside.

He believes that laws brought in to protect endangered species from being targeted by collectors have also led to a decline in children being able to collect other non-protected species.

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A couple of interesting links..

Buglife calls for massive increase in wild flowers
“B-lines would be rivers of flowers in every county, one going east west and the other north south. They would be carefully planned to avoid woods, lakes and other unsuitable habitats, but would connect people to wildlife sites to enable better appreciation of British wildlife.”

Wildlife Pledge (This link is also included in the above site). On the site, use the searchbox on the left to find out which of your local political candidates have signed up to the Wildlife Pledge. Needless to say, none of mine have!

The Wildlife Pledge:
By accepting, MP’s pledge that if elected, they will do all they can to help to stop and reverse the decline in wildlife.

There are 10 points that an MP can pledge to encourage action on, these are:

  1. return colour, life and vitality to the countryside by conserving threatened animals and plants, and restoring their habitats
  2. enable more people to enjoy wildlife close to where they live, and provide all children with contact with the natural world as part of their formal education
  3. reverse the decline of farmland wildlife by the effective promotion of nature-friendly farming
  4. increase the extent and active management of native woodlands for wildlife
  5. conserve and protect wildlife in our wetlands, around our coastline and in our seas
  6. tackle climate change, and restore and manage natural landscapes to help wildlife meet this challenge
  7. establish and provide strong protection for a robust network of important wildlife sites on land and at sea
  8. include space for wildlife in all newly built developments
  9. reduce our damaging impacts overseas by working to end the destruction of tropical rainforests and protecting the wildlife of the UK Overseas Territories
  10. stamp out wildlife crime in the UK.

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Flowering plants may be considerably older than previously thought, says a new analysis of the plant family tree.

Previous studies suggest that flowering plants, or angiosperms, first arose 140 to 190 million years ago. Now, a paper to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences pushes back the age of angiosperms to 215 million years ago, some 25 to 75 million years earlier than either the fossil record or previous molecular studies suggest.

“If you just looked at the fossil record, you would say that angiosperms originated in the early Cretaceous or late Jurassic,” said Michael Donoghue of Yale University. “Most molecular divergence times have shown that they might be older than that,” added Yale biologist Jeremy Beaulieu. “But we actually find that they might be Triassic in origin,” said Beaulieu. “No one has found a result like that before.”

If confirmed, the study could bolster the idea that early angiosperms promoted the rise of certain insects. Modern insects like bees and wasps rely on flowers for nectar and pollen. “The fossil record suggests that a lot of these insect groups originated before angiosperms appeared,” said Stephen Smith of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. This study shifts the oldest angiosperms back farther in time towards the origin of groups like bees and flies, the scientists say. “If you take our dates and superimpose them on the evolutionary tree for these insect groups, all of a sudden you get a match,” said Beaulieu.

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Science Daily

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What happens behind the scenes at the Museum? Why is it important to preserve the 70 million specimens in the collections? And how relevant is the research of Museum scientists to today’s challenges, like biodiversity loss and the spread of tropical disease?

The BBC documentary, Museum of Life, will answer these questions, and many more.

The series will be shown on BBC Two at 8pm for 6 weeks, from Thursday 18th March.

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Bumblebees can now be spotted all year around, especially in Southern England where winter-flowering, non-native plants found in urban gardens provide the food they need to survive the cold months of our British winter.

Bumblebee colonies in Britain collapse at the end of the summer, when the old queen dies and its daughter queens go into hibernation before emerging to start their own nests in the following spring.

But since the 1990s, there is increasing evidence of a second generation of bees active during winter. This is likely due to several reasons. ‘Warmer winters are an important factor,’ says Dr Thomas Ings, an ecologist from Queen Mary, University of London. ‘But the availability of food throughout the winter, in the form of exotic, winter-flowering plants in gardens, is crucial.’

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PlanetEarth online

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A RARE bee could help thwart plans to build nearly 200 homes in part of the Cairngorms National Park. Once thought to be extinct in Scotland, the rare mining bee Andrena marginata may force developers to go back to the drawing board

Fife-based company Muir Homes has earmarked a site in Grantown on Spey for 193 houses in a phased development over the next seven years. It includes an area known as The Mossie, regarded locally as a “paradise” for wildlife, and local conservationists have photographed a mining bee, known as Andrena marginata, at the location.

Until a few years ago, it was feared the insect was extinct in Scotland and is listed as endangered in seven European countries. Campaigners believe its presence can help stop the development going ahead when added to other concerns about the site.

The firm has reduced the proposals from 228 houses to 193, including 49 affordable homes. It also said it would contribute to roadworks, public transport and maintenance.

Although the majority of the land is zoned for housing, the national park authority (CNPA) will be asked today by planning officials to refuse permission.

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Update, Plan rejected: “Major plan for houses to be built on habitat of rare bee rejected

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Digger wasp larvae use bacteria against infections

Beewolf cocoon with Visualized Antibiotics

Digger wasps of the genus Philanthus, so-called beewolves, house beneficial bacteria on their cocoons that guarantee protection against harmful microorganisms. Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena teamed up with researchers at the University of Regensburg and the Jena Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research – Hans-Knoell-Institute – and discovered that bacteria of the genus Streptomyces produce a cocktail of nine different antibiotics and thereby fend off invading pathogens. Using imaging techniques based on mass spectrometry, the antibiotics could be displayed in vivo on the cocoon’s exterior surface. Moreover, it was shown that the use of different kinds of antibiotics provides an effective protection against infection with a multitude of different pathogenic microorganisms. Thus, for millions of years beewolves have been taking advantage of a principle that is known as combination prophylaxis in human medicine. (Nature Chemical Biology, Advance Online Publication, February 28, 2010)

Many insects spend a part of their life underground and are exposed to the risk of fungal or bacterial infections. This is also the case for many digger wasp species that construct underground nests. Unlike bees that use pollen and nectar as food to nurture their larvae, digger wasps hunt insects to feed their offspring. Because of the warm and humid conditions as well as the large amounts of organic material in their subterranean nest, both their food supply and their larvae are endangered by pathogens – mold and bacterial infection are a major threat and can cause larval death in many cases. (more…)

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