‘Saving the Bumblebee‘ – A 30 minute film about their plight by Jamie-Lee Loughlin. Thoroughly recommended!
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AFTER Silent Spring, Britain now faces the silent summer. Fifty years after Rachel Carson’s seminal book about humanity’s impact on nature, Sir David Attenborough has warned that Britain’s wildlife could be on the edge of the next great environmental disaster.
He has written the foreword to a new book, Silent Summer, in which 40 leading British ecologists detail how factors such as pesticides, population growth and intensive farming are destroying the plants, insects and animals on which the rest of the country’s wildlife depends.
The book describes the decline of 75% of butterfly species, the near disappearance of many moths and similar reverses for bees, flies and snails.
Attenborough warns that such organisms make up the foundations of Britain’s ecosystems. “We tend to focus on the bigger animals and ignore the smaller ones — but small creatures like these are the basis of our entire ecosystems and they are disappearing faster than ever. That loss is transforming our wildlife and countryside,” he said.
Digger wasp larvae use bacteria against infections
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…)
Fungus-farming ants have cultivated the same fungal crops for 50 million years. Each young ant queen carries a bit of fungus garden with her when she flies away to mate and establish a new nest. Short breaks in the ants’ relationship with the fungus during nest establishment may contribute to the stability of this long-term mutualism, according to a study at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa, Panama..